Minister confirms another misuse of TFW program by Alberta-based contractor

By Brandon Kostinuk

Earlier this month, via an anonymous source, received information that an Alberta-based contractor for the oil and gas industry was recently granted approval for 10 temporary foreign workers (TFWs) while Canadian workers were left in the cold.

The anonymous source claimed: “… attention should be brought to Alstar Oilfield Contractors based in Hinton Alberta … [S]omehow in this economy they got approved for 10 British foreign workers, even while numerous friends and contacts of mine had been submitting Resumes[sic] the whole time.”

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, MaryAnn Mihychuk, in a telephone interview with Thinkpol, duly confirmed that the previous Conservative administration had indeed approved Alstar’s request for TFWs, citing a May 7, 2015 Labour Market Impact Assessment.

The minister also affirmed she will be looking into this specific case further, adding that the Liberal government is seeking to reform the program, though Mihychuck did not elaborate further.

Yellowhead, Alberta MP, Jim Eglinski, said, he wasn’t too familiar with Alstar Oilfield and noted no formal complaint that he was aware of had been made.

No one from from Alstar Oilfield Contractors, which celebrated its 45th anniversary in operation last year, was made available for comment. The company lists three locations in Hinton, Alta. as well as Fort St. John and Dawson Creek in B.C.

Alstar isn’t the only company, within and outside of its industry, to stretch the use of Canada’s temporary foreign worker program beyond its intended purpose either.

Then-Minister of Human Resources Diane Finley, stated in 2012, “Evidence suggests that, in some instances, employers are hiring temporary foreign workers in the same occupation and location as Canadians who are collecting EI regular benefits.”

The same issue was brought to the attention of media and Canadians in February 2014 when Prayer Promec Joint Venture (PPJV), an oil and gas employer in Alberta, fired 65 Canadian ironworkers. In their place arrived TFWs from Croatia.

The Royal Bank of Canada, select McDonald’s restaurants (in Victoria, B.C.) and Sunwing and Canjet airlines were also wrapped up in misuse allegations. As well, allegations in past have stretched past misuse to mistreatment, abject (see, class-action lawsuit against Denny’s launched in 2012; African woman and West Vancouver resident) and otherwise.

The Conservatives sought to reform the system enacting new legislation June 2014 which were designed to improve transparency and accountability of the program. Stronger enforcement and tougher penalties were also supposedly put in place with the top caveat being to ensure Canadian workers came first, which was supposed to mean restricting access or use of the program.

Though, as Alstar’s case illustrates, the system remains troubled.

Don Butler of the Ottawa Citizen reported in a December 2014 article that, as shown via a government-sponsored survey, “nearly seven in 10 Canadians think employers regularly abuse the TFW program.”

And while just over half of Canadians reported being supportive of the program, 58 per cent said it needed to be reformed.

In May 2014, just prior to the Conservatives’ reforms, Liberal John McCallum, currently the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, said that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program was broken and mentioned that immediate reforms were required to fix it.

The Liberals have discussed increased accountability and transparency, installing a complaint tracking system and compulsory and regular workplace audits, among other items, mostly related to disclosure and regulation.

Uniting employment insurance and the TFW program is another step pundits and citizens have opined for.

Regardless, putting Canadians to work where there is work should be priority one in a sputtering economy, even more that this relates to the oil and gas sector.