Of the nearly 10,000 temporary foreign workers who came to Alberta in 2016, only 400 were in the skilled employment categories now restricted by the federal and Alberta governments, according to Employment and Social Development Canada's open data portal.
In a joint news conference Wednesday, the two levels of governments announced for the next two years, Alberta companies seeking to hire temporary foreign workers from 29 high-skilled job categories will instead be diverted to a new service that will put them in touch with an unemployed Albertan who is qualified for the job.
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Included in the new "refusal to process" list under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) are engineers, plumbers, carpenters, machinists and other skilled trades considered high-wage occupations.
The restricted job categories represent a small percentage of unemployed Albertans who are now looking for work, said Edmonton Riverbend Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux.
Jeneroux said the federal Liberal government has been slow to react to Alberta's unemployment problem, forcing many to leave Alberta to find jobs in other markets such as the United States.
"We're intrigued that they're looking at Alberta finally, but let's point out that it's a step in the right direction," said Jeneroux. "But that being said, it's a small one."
He said if the federal and Alberta governments were serious about the unemployment problem, "they would abandon their job-killing carbon tax and continue to find investment opportunities within Alberta."
Signal to employers
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), says the move sends a strong signal to employers who may have tried to avoid paying higher union-set wages by hiring temporary foreign workers.
"Over the last two years, for example, literally hundreds of employers applied to use temporary foreign workers in all of these 29 different job categories," said AFL president Gil McGowan.
"Those approvals were granted even though unemployment was on the rise and there was clearly a lot of people right here in Alberta who could have filled the positions," he added.
"It was a highly questionable practice when the economy was booming," said McGowan. "But it's completely unacceptable now that the economy is slow and there a lot of people unemployed."
Of the jobs filled by new temporary foreign workers in 2016, the overwhelming majority were in the food services sector, followed by home-care workers and nannies.
According to Employment and Social Development Canada's open data portal, a combined total of 2,640 jobs last year were in food services, followed by 1,865 temporary foreign workers in home-care and child-care positions.
The new Employer Liaison Service will be run as a two-year pilot project.