Problems with TFW program extend beyond food services sector

AFL reveals hundreds of unlawful TFW permits issued by Minister Kenney

EDMONTON – Problems with the Temporary Foreign Worker program are not limited to the food service industry.

An Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) audit of Temporary Foreign Worker permits (Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) uncovered hundreds of instances where the Harper government broke its own rules and allowed TFWs to be paid less than Albertans. This undermines all Canadian workers.

“Minister Kenney has now banned the use of TFWs in food services. But while the food service industry may be the worst offender, it is by no means the only industry that has been using the TFW program to displace Canadians and drive down wages. So targeting food services is not enough,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “The government needs to immediately scrap all low-wage streams of the TFW program and put a moratorium on medium and high-skilled streams pending an open and transparent investigation.”

Piecing together hundreds of pages of records obtained through Access to Information, the AFL investigation found hundreds of cases where the Minister for Employment and Social Development, Jason Kenney, issued permits to employers that allowed those employers to pay TFWs less than Albertans.

“There is a clear pattern to this government’s handling of the Temporary Foreign Worker program,” McGowan said. “They’re bending, breaking, circumventing and ignoring the rules they set up to prevent abuse. And because of that, employers in all kinds of sectors are using the program to drive down wages across the country and throughout the economy.”

An employer must – according to Ministry guidelines, pay the prevailing wage rate for the region and the occupation. The permits issued are therefore unlawful. The documents show a pattern of abuse of the program far beyond fast food outlets.

“The abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker program has only gotten worse since Jason Kenney took over Employment and Social Development Canada,” McGowan said. “Ultimately, he’s the one responsible for these permits. If ministerial responsibility means anything, Jason Kenney has to resign.”

In 2012-13, unlawful permits were found for hotels, gas stations, truck stops, casinos, ski lift operations, convenience stores, greenhouses, industrial farming operations, feedlots, nurseries, and various occupations in restaurants.

The AFL is writing to the federal Auditor General to conduct a full investigation. Given the seriousness of the allegations and the pattern of abuse of the program within Jason Kenney’s ministry, the AFL is examining other avenues for investigation, such as the federal Ethics and Accountability Commissioner.

Notes on the Data

The AFL obtained the prevailing wage rates used to issue Labour Market Opinions to employers who wish to hire a Temporary Foreign Worker. This data is broken down by occupational classification and by region of the province.

We also obtained a list of LMOs given to employers for $0.50 above Alberta’s minimum wage. Several Temporary Foreign Workers may be admitted under one LMO.

Under the regulations, employers may not pay TFWs less than the prevailing wage rate for a specific occupation in a specific region.

For most of the lower-skilled occupations where we find thousands of Temporary Foreign Workers, the prevailing wage rate paid to Albertans is more than $0.50 above minimum wage. In many cases, such as farm workers, the prevailing wage rate paid to Albertans is up to 50 per cent higher than the minimum wage. And yet, employers were given permits to hire TFWs for far less than what they have to pay Alberta workers.

The fact that this is not confined to a few isolated incidents in one industry sector points to a pattern of using TFWs to drive down Canadian wages and an intensification of the pattern since Jason Kenney took over responsibility for the permits.

To date, Canadians have never seen so much evidence of the program being used across the economy to undercut Canadian wages. All previous evidence that this was the case was presented as one bad employer or anecdotal. The AFL’s investigation – by examining thousands of TFW permit records and matching them to prevailing wage rates at the regional level – shows that the Harper government has been complicit in the undermining of Canadian wages.

AFL Backgrounder: Alberta Employers with LMOs allowing them to pay less than “prevailing market wage”



Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail