Ottawa to streamline foreign worker plan
Kenney vows changes to ease labour shortages
Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney promised Friday to improve a program that allows companies to bring in foreign workers, amid labour shortages in some Alberta industries.
Kenney, speaking at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce lunch, vowed to meet with leaders next month across several sectors to address their challenges in hiring using the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, following more general meetings about immigration held in Alberta through the summer that made it evident the program is a priority for businesses.
"It's our intention to hammer out a process that is more efficient, that eliminates unnecessary and redundant bureaucracy, or red tape, so that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program works, on time, for the Alberta economy," Kenney said.
In October the Calgary Southeast MP will join Diane Finley, Human Resources and Skills Development minister, in meetings with employers from the oil and gas, construction, agriculture and hospitality sectors and labour representatives to talk about the program, which the government attempted to improve last April 1 by adopting new rules against mistreatment of foreign workers.
The latest figures from Statistics Canada for Alberta, from August, show unemployment in the province at 5.6 per cent - third lowest after Saskatchewan (4.5 per cent) and Manitoba (5.4 per cent).
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada numbers show 42,885 temporary foreign workers were employed in Alberta in 2010.
The program, which Kenney described as "much maligned" but misunderstood by those labour groups who feel foreigners are taking Canadian jobs, has had a limited effect on a tight labour situation in the oil and gas sector, according to Cheryl Knight of the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada.
"There is a strong disconnect with the Government of Canada's program prioritizing so-called skilled workers, where skill is associated with education. For our industry, skill is something different," said Knight, the executive director and CEO of the Calgary-based organization, who noted there are shortages in field workers in oil and gas, well services and drilling workers and supervisors.
"Because those jobs do not require formal post-secondary education, they're not seen as skilled workers."
When questioned, Kenney was aware of Knight's concern and remembered a July meeting with her group. "I think what they're telling us is there are people who in actual fact, have very high levels of skill, but not on paper. They may not have a high school education, they may not have a diploma, they may not have trade certification, but they're able to run a sophisticated $10-million gas fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operation," he said.
"We are sensitive to that concern and we are looking at it."
The federal minister also suggested another solution to the energy industry labour issues could be bringing in unemployed U.S. workers, a practice currently limited through a North American Free Trade Agreement visa program to about 5,000 people per year.
Kenney said the government must also try to match unemployed Canadians with jobs in parts of the country facing labour shortages, noting 80 per cent of Canadians surveyed by Ottawa feel immigration levels are already too high.
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