Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Labour shortage temporarily met from abroad"

Warning: this article justifies the virtual slavery of the "temporary foreign worker" programs, placing business "needs" ahead of human rights, especially in Energy exploding Alberta. Defend migrant rights, shut down the tar sands. The tar sands TFW's are not allowed off the work camp site. Think about that.


Labour shortage temporarily met from abroad
Norma Greenaway , CanWest News Service
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2007

OTTAWA -- Joe Marshall had reached the end of his rope.

He had travelled far and wide in Canada in search of skilled tradesmen for the Calgary power company he managed, pumped tens of thousands of dollars into advertising, and hired a headhunting firm only to come up empty in his quest to hire the skilled bodies the company desperately needed to build, maintain and operate power lines.

ENMAX Power Corporation, which distributes electricity to Calgary residences and businesses, had been around for more than 100 years, and never before had it encountered such a problem hiring new talent. The company was getting increasingly nervous, knowing it could lose one-quarter of its 250-strong force of linemen to retirement over the next five to 10 years. It also was fighting a losing battle to lure workers to a city where the high cost of living, especially the cost of housing, was a turnoff.

"We were brainstorming all the time, trying to think what can we do," Marshall said. "We were advertising across the country, advertising in Toronto where it cost $40,000 for a weekend ad."

That was thousands of foreign kilometres ago, and before Marshall and senior company executives decided to act on a suggestion -- offered by a Filipino lineman working in the United States who had seen the company's ad on the Internet -- to tap into the pool of skilled labour in the Philippines.

Today, eight Filipinos, all certified power linemen in their home country, are settling into their new digs in Calgary under the Temporary Foreign Worker program. They arrived last Thursday after accepting job offers Marshall, ENMAX's manager of electrical work, made in Manila last February where he and Shannon Robinson, his colleague from human resources, interviewed 66 applicants.

Getting their eight picks to Canada was not fast, and took months longer than expected to go through the medical clearance hoops and to get the work permits.

"We had all the paper work done by the end of May, and then five months went by and we were just waiting and waiting and waiting," said Robinson. "It was extremely frustrating."

But Marshall and Robinson are breathing easier now, and ooze optimism the new linemen, who used the long wait to work on their English language skills in the Philippines, will work out.

The company has organized orientation sessions, arranged for housing, and will help prepare the newcomers for a provincial certification exam they must pass within a year. If all goes well, Marshall said, the company has offered to sponsor them, and their immediate families still in the Philippines, for residency in Canada.

"We're really thinking outside the box," declared Robinson, who, along with Marshall, was in Ottawa for a conference, sponsored by the Electricity Sector Council, on how to integrate internationally-trained new Canadians into the industry.

ENMAX is neither the first, nor will it be the last company forced to recruit overseas in a bid to navigate specific labour shortages across the country, shortages that are predicted to grow as aging baby boomers begin retiring en masse.

The robust economies of Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. are feeling the biggest pinch, but other provinces too are struggling with shortages of everything from tradesmen and construction workers to engineers, doctors and nurses.

The federal government, working with the provinces and businesses, has taken several steps to make it easier to bring people to Canada under the Foreign Workers Program if no residents of Canada are available to fill the position. There were almost 172,000 temporary foreign workers in 2006, an increase of 122 per cent over 10 years.

Responding to pleas from businesses in Alberta and B.C., Ottawa now has listed 12 occupations, ranging from carpenters and crane operators to registered nurses and food counter attendants, as eligible for fast-track approval for hiring of foreign workers. It also has earmarked $50 million for this year and next to reduce processing delays and to more effectively respond to regional shortages.

As promised in the last federal election campaign, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper also launched the Foreign Credentials Referral Office last May to help internationally trained individuals get their credentials assessed and recognized more quickly in Canada.

Immigration Minister Diane Finley was in New Delhi last week announcing the opening of additional offices in India and China, major sources of skilled immigrants to Canada. The offices allow potential immigrants to find out in advance what they need to get their credentials recognized in Canada, what and where the demand for their talents is in Canada, and what they can expect to earn. An interactive website, workingincanada.gc.ca, also offers such straightforward information.

Deborah Wolfe, chairwoman of the Electricity Sector Council's committee on foreign credential recognition, credits the Harper government for making progress on a problem that has dogged the country for decades, and dashed the dreams of too many skilled and educated immigrants who wind up in "survival" jobs.

"They've done a really good job of saying we need to do something here," Wolfe said in an interview. She sited the Foreign Credential Referral Office network, plus the website, as giant steps forward in providing foreigners with "authoritative information" about what they need to do to get work in their field in Canada.

Ottawa Citizen

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