Official statistics may underestimate the number of temporary foreign workers in the country according to a new study by the Construction Sector Council.
Alberta is experiencing an explosion in the number of temporary foreign workers (TFW) in the construction industry, but official statistics may underestimate the number of these workers in the country.
“Alberta has seen exponential growth in the use of TFWs for construction,” states a study recently released by the Construction Sector Council (CSC).
The study investigates the impact that the workers have on Canada’s construction industry.
One of the aims of the study is to determine the scope and scale of the TFW program in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, which typically use more TFWs than other provinces in Canada.
“Between 2004 and 2005, the number of requested Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) increased by 431 per cent. The rate of increase in requests was slightly less in 2006, at 286 per cent over those in 2005,” the study stated.
The rapid growth in the number of TFWs can be seen more clearly using the most recent data, which is available for the period between January and May last year.
“In May of 2007, Alberta construction companies had already received permission to bring in 82 per cent of the total number of TFWs approved in 2006 and had already requested another 123 per cent over last year’s numbers,” said the study.
It reports that there were 3801 LMOs approved in Alberta in 2006, compared to 1326 in 2005 and 386 in 2004.
Between January and May 2007, 3135 LMOs were approved, while 4697 were pending.
“Should these requests be granted by Service Canada, Alberta will realize a 206 per cent increase in the demand for TFWs in just a four month period,” the study states. “If this trend continues, it could lead to more than a 600 per cent increase in TFWs in the Alberta construction labour force from 2006 and 2007.”
According to the latest figures available on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website, there were 22,392 temporary foreign workers in all sectors of the Alberta economy in 2006.
This is more than double the 11,067 workers who were in the province in 2003.
However, these figures are not up to date and are not broken down by specific economic sectors.
It is difficult to get a clear picture about 2007 or 2008, during which the use of TFWs in the Alberta construction industry was and is expected to increase exponentially.
According to the study, the overall construction labour force was about one million workers in 2005.
It was the last year for which comparative data is available on work permits issued under the TFW program.
Just more than 3,000 work permits were issued for temporary construction work in 2005, which was less than half of one per cent of all workers in the sector.
TFWs represent a small share of the construction labour force in Canada, but the older data likely underestimates the number of TFWs in the country.
“The best data we have available is the work permit and LMO data. Other than that nobody is tracking that kind of information,” said George Gritziotis, executive director of the CSC.
“With the numbers of TFWs ratcheting up we need to look at process in the construction industry to make sure these workers have training, the right skills and know their rights. We would need to look at these issues regardless of whether or not we know the exact number of TFWs in the country.”
The study is based on data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), which provided data on the number of TFWs being issued work permits. Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) provided data on the numbers of employers requesting Labour Market Opinions.
HRSDC assesses the potential impact that hiring a foreign worker will have on Canada’s labour market.