Albertans react to temporary foreign worker program changes

Many are commending the government's overhaul of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program but some provincial politicians say it's bad economic policy for Alberta.

Friday's moratorium lift comes with an overhaul of the TFW program

Employment Minister Jason Kenney, left, and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander are seen in a reflection at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, June 20, 2014 on reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

When federal employment minister Jason Kenney announced Friday the moratorium on temporary foreign workers had been lifted, Cesar Espinoza Garcia breathed a sigh of relief.

“It’s like lifting a ton off my back,” he said.

Garcia moved to Edmonton from Mexico two and a half years ago. While he is happy the program has been reinstated, he said he experienced abuse as a temporary foreign worker. He even started keeping a diary, forcing his managers to clock him in and out, after he was fired from a fast food job for allegedly showing up late.

Major overhaul

The moratorium lift comes with an overhaul of the TFW program, effectively conceding there has been growing abuse of the program and a driving down of wages.

The revamped program will bar employers from hiring foreign workers in regions where unemployment is high, put a cap on the number of workers employers can hire, include a more stringent screening process for employers to prove they need to hire a foreign worker over a Canadian one, and increase the number of spot checks in the workplace and fines for those who break the rules.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, called the TFW program “a public policy train wreck" and considers Friday's announcement a victory. 

What people heard was the sound of an ideological conservative government buckling in the face of evidence, public pressure and common sense," said McGowan.

Albertan politicians, however, are not necessarily happy with the news.

“Some of these solutions being suggested by the federal government as replacements to the TFW program might work in other areas of the country, but they are not going to work here,” said Kyle Fawcett, Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour.

As for Garcia, he hopes his family can remain in Canada. 

“If the government and the people unite together, we can change the way employees do their business,” he said. “We’re already attached to your society and to your country. We would like to remain here.”