In response to complaints of abuse and extortion, the Alberta government is creating a team of inspectors to ensure temporary foreign workers are treated fairly in the province.
Eight officers — four in Edmonton and four in Calgary — will investigate complaints and carry out inspections of companies to ensure workers receive fair wages and the holidays and vacation pay to which they're entitled, Alberta's employment minister announced Monday.
"Temporary foreign workersdo help to fill a criticalneed, and we're not going to let them down," said Employment, Immigration and Industry Minister Iris Evans.
"We're known as a land that has so much…Theirgreat expectations are things that we hope we can fulfil, by looking after them in a way that you'd look after a relative coming to town."
The Alberta Federation of Labour released a scathing report last month, outlining more than 100 formal complaints from workers not being paid promised wages, being forced to pay thousands of dollars in illegal broker fees, and being threatened with deportation if they complained.
More than 22,000 workers from countries including India, Poland and China are working in Alberta's restaurants, oil sands and construction industry.
Vimal Ram, a chef from Fiji, arrived in Edmonton under Alberta's Temporary Foreign Workers Program, which states employers must find housing for their workers.
Ram's company put him in a house with 10 other men where he slept in the basement.
"The basement used to be flooded every time. The lower part of my bed like ... things rotten," said Ram.
Ram signed a contract with a recruiter who charged him a fee of $6,000. When he realized such fees were illegal, he stopped paying— and then lost his job with a restaurant chain. Ram believes his contract wasn't renewed because he didn't pay his recruiter.
The province is also setting up two special advisory offices in Edmonton and Calgary to help temporary foreign workers with issues such as occupational health and safety or employment standards.
Programs will cost $1 million
The offices, each staffed with two advisers, will also help refer them to authorities who can help with housing issues and illegal recruitment fees, said Evans.
The minister said any companies found breaking employment standards could be audited or prosecuted.
Employers and employees will be offered the opportunity to participate in an employment standards workshop, said Evans.
The new measures will cost about $1 million per year, with an additional $700,000 spent on a promotional campaign.