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Damning Data Reveals Suppression of Prevailing Wage, Abuses of Foreign Workers in Alberta

Alberta prevailing wage

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The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) claims the conservative government is using old, inaccurate data to drive down wages for the province’s workers and bring in temporary foreign workers to fill jobs at lower rates.  The claim follows new data revelations from the labour group. 

The practice is part of a larger scheme to bring in foreign workers to perform work that could be done by the region’s tradespeople.  Not unlike the United States’ H-2b program, Alberta’s companies must show that regional workers are unwilling to do the jobs in question before seeking out foreign workers.  To dissuade local workers from taking the jobs, the AFL claims, the old data is manipulated so that the positions pay less than the prevailing wage.  

Critics of the current program argue that it is easy for employers to post jobs on the Employment and Social Development department’s Job Bank at an incorrect wage.  An example of how this practice saves money for employers comes from the The Tyee:

An Alberta wage and salary survey found the prevailing wage for a carpenter is $31.23 an hour. But advertisements on the Job Bank were mostly offering between $28 and $30 per hour. If employers win approval to bring temporary workers at the lower rate, they save $2,300 to $6,000 a year per employee.

The federal government relied on this outdated data to depress wages until at least April of 2014, according to the AFL.  Another example comes from the Windsor-Sarnia region, where the Temporary Foreign Worker Program wage standard for carpenters was based on the 2007 rate of $17.30 an hour.  In 2011, the federal government’s own fair wage rate for a carpenter on a federal job in that region was $27.80 hourly.  

Speaking to The Tyee Siobhan Vipond, the labour federation’s acting president, said the system is “broken and easily abused.”  According to Vipond:

“It’s such a bad model,” Vipond said.  “The government of Canada is not collecting good information, so we have to rely on this completely employer-driven ad bank to determine the prevailing wage.”

Battling over the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and damning data are not new to these conservative leaders. The AFL previously unearthed numbers showing thousands of foreign workers were being paid less than Canadians would.  According to the new AFL numbers, the federal government’s prevailing wage standard for a carpenter plummeted from $34.57 an hour in 2005 to $26.50 in 2012.  Conversely, the number of Temporary Foreign Workers increased from 100,000 in 2002 to roughly 400,000 in 2012.  

Siobhan Vipond argues that the abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, along with abuses of the International Mobility Program, has combined to create wage stagnation in the region.

“We feel like the immigration system in this country needs to be fixed.  We need to stop bringing people in as workers and bring them in as potential citizens.”


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