PRESS RELEASE: AFL calls on feds to end employers’ harmful addiction to guest worker programs

Explosion in number of guest workers and non-permanent residents is suppressing wages and driving up rents. “It needs to stop!” says McGowan

EDMONTON – The federal government must close all guest worker streams used by low-wage employers, says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the province’s largest labour advocacy group. The call arises from a report released today by the AFL dealing with the flawed Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP).

“Low-wage employers have become addicted to Canada’s guest work programs,” says McGowan. “And the federal government has been feeding that addiction. The numbers were bad under the Harper government, but they’re even worse under the current government. It needs to stop.”

The report calls for the federal government to get rid of “streams that are used by low-wage employers to suppress wages,” including the recently announced fast-track process for the TFWP, which came into force on January 1, 2024.

Hundreds of thousands of international students, graduates and their families obtain work permits and take low-paying jobs through the TFWP and the IMP reducing wages in jobs that already have ultra-low wages. The report also calls on the government to invest in off-market housing and to decrease the hours international students can work off-campus.

“When low-wage employers use guest workers, it suppresses wages in that workplace and across entire sectors. That’s not an opinion, it’s an established fact. Often wages are so low that Canadians or landed immigrants won’t accept the jobs, which fuels calls from employers for more guest workers. It’s a vicious cycle,” says McGowan.

“It’s time for the federal government to cut off the supply to the addicts and make employers who have built their business models around exploiting low-wage guest workers go cold turkey. Ending the low-wage stream of the TFWP will be good for Canadian workers. But that’s not all: even though they won’t admit it now, it will also be good for employers because it will force them to do things that are in their long-term best interests – like making investments to improve their productivity and paying wages that will reduce employee turnover.”

The AFL report says the end of the low-wage stream of the TFWP should be accompanied by a one-time policy of granting permanent residency to all guest workers who are already here and “regularization” for undocumented workers.

“These workers have often been brought here under false pretenses and in many cases are exploited and abused. They’ve earned a pathway to citizenship. But we have to turn-off the pipeline and stop the gross distortion of our labour market that has been caused by these ill-conceived programs.”

McGowan concluded with the following statement and question: “We have to ask ourselves what kind of Canada we want to build. Do we want to be a nation of immigrants who become citizens with economic opportunity in every workplace? Or do we want to be a nation that exploits guest workers? We can’t be both – and we’re sliding quickly from the former to the latter.”

The report can be found at

McGowan says he will use the report to personally lobby the federal cabinet ministers who are responsible for overseeing the TFWP, the IMP and immigration in general. Those ministers include: Minster of Employment Randy Boissonnault; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland; Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller; and Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan.

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John Ashton
Director of Communications, AFL