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Foreign workers form small but essential part of Canada’s labour force, panel says

0 153 Labour

by Vince Versace

Temporary foreign workers may only account for five percent of Canada’s construction workforce but their importance cannot be ignored, a Construction Sector Council (CSC) panel recently emphasized.

Immigration

Temporary foreign workers may only account for five percent of Canada’s construction workforce but their importance cannot be ignored, a Construction Sector Council (CSC) panel recently emphasized.

“Temporary foreign workers are essential to us getting our projects being built,” said Terry Burton, corporate manager of labour resources for Shell Canada.

The CSC organized a panel to discuss experiences and challenges with incorporating temporary foreign workers into projects. The panel was part of CSC’s recent National Owners’ Forum held in Toronto.

Burton, also a member of the Construction Owners Association of Alberta, said Western Canada’s reliance on the rest of Canada for labour is changing. Large projects coming online in the Maritimes over the next few years will draw workers back closer to their homes and away from Alberta, he said.

The industry faces a manpower issue in which it must not only rely on temporary foreign workers but also grow its own workforce through apprenticeships, said Burton.

However, it cannot be denied that hiring temporary foreign workers plays a part in meeting current labour needs.

“We are halfway to our peak (of work) and we need them (temporary foreign workers),” explained Burton.

“Temporary foreign workers have an expense but it is at the point where it is more expensive to not acquire them.”

Hugh Tackaberry, director of labour relations with Fluor Constructors Canada Limited, echoed Burton’s projections that large-scale projects in Atlantic Canada and Ontario will overlap with the ongoing and expected expansion of work in Alberta. This overlap will stretch the current workforce making temporary foreign workers “a reality” to help fill certain labour gaps, said Tackaberry.

Through his experience Tackaberry says temporary foreign workers find Canada attractive not just because the pay is better but also because it is a stable country to work and possibly live in.

Some challenges with temporary foreign workers companies should look out for is the occasional disconnect with workers on understanding what they are expected to do.

Also, in some instances, some training or upgrading of skills is needed to meet the demands of the job in Canada, said Tackaberry.

The Boilermakers Contractors Association (BCA) has had successes in bridging this skill level discrepancy with workers from Argentina and Brazil. The BCA had Alberta safety and work guidelines translated into Portuguese and Spanish and sent down to Brazil and Argentina.

A BCA representative then held overviews in South America of the documents through the unions in Brazil and Argentina they had partnered with, explained David Galvin, president of the BCA.

The BCA also donated some equipment to the Argentinean shops so the workers could learn how to use the Canadian machinery, making it easier for them to work upon arrival in Canada, said Galvin.

In the BCA’s experience, the interaction between temporary foreign workers and Canadian workers has been very positive, with friendly rivalries about quality of work evolving at sites.

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