August 3, 2006

Labour Shortage

Critics slam feds’ temporary work permit scheme

Step in the right direction falls short of goal


A federal government plan to allow temporary workers permits in Calgary and Vancouver won’t do anything to stop the chronic labour shortage in central Canada say critics and may make things worse out west.

The announcement by Monte Solberg, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, has angered some in the construction industry as ignoring any of the suggestions put forward in a joint union-management proposal a year ago and endorsed by cities across Canada.

“We see this one as a disaster,” says Wayne Peppard, executive director of the BC and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council. “If you are going to speed up a process that has no monitoring and enforcements built into it will just add to the problems that we are dealing with at the provincial level.”

He says workers are available in most trades as long as they are offered market pay rates. But, he says, Canadian credentials are mandatory and monitoring and enforcement mechanisms should be in place so foreign workers aren’t exploited as a source of cheap labour.

“I think that these guys are getting very good at communications, sort of communicating one message but meaning another,” says Patrick Dillon of the Provincial Building and Trades Council of Ontario. “It ignores the pool of unemployed construction workers in this country.”

As of September 2006 the temporary foreign worker units advise employers planning to hire temporary foreign workers exempted from the labour market confirmation process.

“We will help facilitate the entry of temporary foreign workers into Canada where they are needed by working with the companies and sectors most affected,” said Solberg, “Not a day has gone by since I was appointed Minister that I have not heard about labour market shortages threatening to hold up Canada’s economic growth.”

Andy Manahan, spokesman for the Universal Workers Union, Local 183, says the federal government’s plan is a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough.

“He is starting to take some action, although in the western part of Canada. In the Toronto area we have a shortage of skilled construction labourers, so it is unfortunate there wasn’t more done for Ontario,” he noted.

The proposals don’t look at all the options, says Dillon.

“They should also look at the training capacity of the not-for-profit training capacity, like the community colleges in Ontario,” says Dillon. “The building trades are pro-immigration but we are pro-Canadian first. We have the people, there are unemployed trades people across the country. We have been lobbying on mobility tax benefits for the workers to cover travel expenses.”

Jeff Morrison, CCA director of public affairs and government relations also wasn’t impressed.

“There is not going to be a great deal of applicability for the construction industry,” he said. “It deals with jobs ‘exempted from the labour market opinion process,’ construction is not one. ”

The CCA says Canada is already short between 25,000 and 60,000 workers.

Manahan favors a multi-pronged solution to the labour shortage problems.

“First and foremost since we have skilled workers here let’s not deport them,” he noted. “They are needed, and when we do face skilled shortages it doesn’t make any economic or moral sense to deport productive workers that are contributing to our society.”

He advocates reforms to the immigration system that will allow “better matching to the needs in the market place to people that are coming from foreign countries.”

Manahan also said provinces need to have more control over which skills are needed in their jurisdictions.

However Keith Sashaw, the head of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, said he was encouraged by the federal government’s new initiative.

“We see it as a positive move. Anything that facilitates foreign skilled workers getting into Canada is positive,” Sashaw said.

The government units will process applications out of regional offices as well as a central location, which will “speed up the process,” Sashaw said.

The VRCA also took matters into its own hands earlier this year when the organization, along with other construction stakeholders, held job fairs in England and Germany to bring European skilled workers to Canada.

“It’s very much complimenting our efforts. We’ve also asked the federal government to exempt construction workers from the labour market analysis, which would make it easier to bring them over here,” Sashaw said.

In addition to the federal government’s new plan, the B.C. provincial government recently announced it will expand the staff of its provincial nominee program, which also facilitates bringing skilled workers into labour-starved areas such as construction and health care.

“Hopefully, the next step will be the federal government easing off on the regulatory burden associated with bringing in foreign workers,” Sashaw said.


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