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Alberta’s labour paradox

Oil sands operators continue to expand to take advantage of elevated crude oil prices. But with that expansion comes the need for more workers.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, tells BNN that in order to fill that labour vacuum, many operators are turning to a Federal program that allows for temporary foreign workers.

"In 2010 the Federal government approved nearly 43,000 applications for temporary foreign workers. To put that in context, we already have 58,000 temporary foreign workers in Alberta. So if all of those new applications lead to new temporary foreign workers in our province we'll have more than 100,000 in Alberta-making us the biggest province in terms of use of the program."

"In fact we would have about 25 percent of all temporary foreign workers in the country even though we have about 10 percent of the population," he adds.

In 2008, McGowan says that a similar situation-with negative consequences-played out in the province.

"What we saw at that time was a dramatic ramp up in the number of temporary foreign workers in the province…and what we saw was a litany of abuses at the hands of both brokers and employers," he says. "It's clear we're now on the cusp of another boom in the use of temporary foreign workers and we're afraid the situation might actually get worse."

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