B.C. and Alberta fast-track foreign workers

Posted by admin on Sep 24th, 2007

Michael Kane, Vancouver Sun . Monday, September 24, 2007

Temporary foreign workers will be fast-tracked into British Columbia and Alberta in as little as five days under a pilot project launched today to address “very desperate” labour shortages in both provinces. That compares to the five months it sometimes takes government agencies to approve work permits for positions where qualified Canadian workers cannot be found, Monte Solberg, federal human resources minister, told a Vancouver press conference. Ottawa and the B.C. government are also working to develop a memorandum of understanding that will include information sharing to protect temporary foreign workers from employer abuse in areas such as wages and working conditions.

“This sharing of information is critical for ensuring the rights of temporary foreign workers are protected,” Solberg said. “We will not tolerate abuse, mistreatment or wrongdoing.”

The one-year pilot project will apply to eligible employers in 12 specific occupations in high demand, including the construction, tourism and hospitality sectors.

They represent about 25 per cent of the combined volume of regular requests for “labour market opinions” from Human Resources and Social Development Canada and Service Canada to assess the potential impact hiring a foreign worker will have on the labour market.

“We are working together to address some of these very desperate labour shortages that are affecting much of Canada but, in particular British Columbia and Alberta,” Solberg said.

“For instance, I was in Whistler a year ago and I heard over and over again about hotel managers having to clean rooms for lack of workers. I heard about restaurants and stores operating on reduced hours for the same reason. In fact, I hear the same concerns everywhere I go in Alberta and British Columbia.”

This year’s federal budget pledged an additional $50.5 million over two years to reduce processing delays and more effectively respond to regional labour and skills shortages. Improvements include expanding online application systems and maintaining lists of occupations with known shortages of workers.

Colin Hansen, B.C.’s Minister of Economic Development, welcomed the pilot program as “an important way for employers in British Columbia to address increasing labour shortages and remain competitive in our global economy.”

However, there was criticism from Phil Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association of B.C., because the program includes ski instructors but does not include several construction trades experiencing shortages, including glazers and roofers.

The pilot project applies to carpenters, crane operators, hotel and hospitality room attendants, hotel front desk clerks, food and beverage servers, food counter attendants, tour and travel guides, registered nurses, dental technicians, pharmacists, snowboard and ski instructors, and retail sales persons and sales clerks.

Employers are required to apply to Service Canada to access the pilot and must confirm that they have made reasonable efforts to hire or train Canadian citizens or permanent residents, that there is no labour dispute in progress at the employer’s workplace, and that working conditions and wages meet minimum acceptable standards.

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