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Alberta curtailment of foreign workers includes unions

Jean Sorensen
Alberta curtailment of foreign workers includes unions

Alberta’s curtailment of the numbers and types of temporary foreign workers (TFW) will include international unions whose members are drawn from outside Canada.

“The recent changes to the ‘refusal to process’ list will apply to any unions that have U.S. affiliations,” said Adrienne South, press secretary to Alberta’s Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping, via email.

South said in 2019, more than 2,500 TFWs filled positions in Alberta in various trade occupations, such as transport truck drivers, drywallers, concrete finishers, roofers and shinglers.

Copping stated in a press release that the changes will save more than 1,300 jobs for Albertans as of Nov. 1 when additional occupational categories were added to the refusal to process list. 

Alberta is using its authority under the Canada-Alberta Labour Market Pilot of the Agreement for Canada-Alberta Cooperation on Immigration. The changes impact 475 occupations in sectors such as accommodation and food services, retail trade, transportation, construction, and professional, scientific and technical services.

While some emergency workers and occupations have received exemptions, the federal government has now also placed conditions on TFW, citing COVID-19 as the cause.

The federal government has announced limiting TFW in any regional area that has a six per cent or more unemployment rate.

“Due to the serious economic impacts resulting from COVID-19, all economic regions in Canada are now considered to have unemployment rates of at least six per cent or above,” the government posted on its website for gathering information for Labour Market Impact Assessment applications.

The jury is still out how much the labour market curtailments will impact Alberta’s construction industry.

Edmonton Construction Association executive director John McNicoll said he was not clear on what the motivation was behind Alberta’s curtailment of TFW into the construction industry.

“Is it to provide more jobs for those who are unemployed?” he said, adding it then becomes a question of whether there are those individuals in the marketplace who would fill those jobs. “I spoke to a drywaller who wished he could find more people.”

McNicoll said Alberta was facing high unemployment numbers and reducing the numbers of TFW could be beneficial if the move draws skilled and unemployed construction trade members back into the labour market.

“If there are unemployed, it is not a time to bring in more TFW and we need to help more Albertans,” he said. 

However, if these people simply don’t exist in the labour market, there would be a negative impact to the industry, but as yet he was hearing no feedback from members.

Curtailment restrictions can lead to unforeseen consequences, McNicoll cautioned, pointing to the B.C. fruit industry which saw a curtailment of foreign workers leading to labour shortages.  

Nadine Barber, interim executive director of the Construction Owners Association of Alberta, said via email, “As a general rule, TFW have been a useful way to handle spikes in demand when local workers are not available. In Alberta, we have an incredible pool of talent in the industrial construction industry in addition to some of the best education and training facilities in the country. Our members are long term planners and take into account workforce needs well into the future.”

The Alberta decision does not affect those TFW already in place within the province.

“However, if projects end up short of one or two specialized trades, schedule delays can create high costs very quickly and erode the attractiveness of capital investment in Alberta,” she said.

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