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Thursday, 25 April 2013 11:15

Temporary foreign workers not answer to Saskatchewan labour needs

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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It is a story that has often been told by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall in speeches across the province.


It is a comeback story of how people used to leave the province in search of economic opportunities elsewhere, most often in Alberta. Now, they have returned in recent years to become part of the new Saskatchewan.
They have been joined by people from across Canada and the world who want to benefit from a strong economy and job opportunities.
As a result, Saskatchewan's population was 1,089,807 on Jan. 1, 2013, which were 21,690 more than a year earlier.
The population in the province grew by 65,223 between 2006 and 2011 compared to a drop of about 11,000 people in each of the two previous five-year census periods.
Economic growth in 2012 dropped to 2.8 per cent compared to 4.9 per cent in 2011, but forecasts for 2013 were indicating a solid 2.9 per cent growth that is expected to increase to 3.7 per cent in 2014.
Concerns about labour shortages are frequently raised in discussions about the new Saskatchewan and attracting temporary foreign workers has become part of the labour market approach in the province.
It has resulted in a significant increase in the number of temporary foreign workers in Saskatchewan, from 4,306 in 2008 to 9,349 at the end of 2012.
The Saskatchewan Plan for Growth, which was released in October, sets out the government’s vision for a province of 1.2 million people by 2020.
The labour force proposals in the plan include a goal to negotiate a Temporary Foreign Worker Annex with the federal government that will expedite the entry of foreign workers into Saskatchewan to meet critical skill shortages.
Earlier this month concerns have been expressed over the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) after complaints from Royal Bank of Canada staff that they were losing their jobs to such workers.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has indicated the federal government is drafting reforms to ensure the program is only used to address real and serious labour shortages.
There were 338,189 temporary foreign workers in Canada at the end of 2012. According to Statistics Canada, there were 1,374,700 unemployed Canadians in March 2013 and the unemployment rate was 7.2 per cent.
The highest ratio of unemployed people to job vacancies were in eastern Canada, but even in Alberta and Saskatchewan there were two unemployed people for every job vacancy.
A recent University of Calgary School of Public Policy paper suggested the Saskatchewan government’s labour market policy should not include the use of temporary foreign workers to address short-term shortages.
The study by Herb Emery, a professor of economics at the University of Calgary, was published in January 2013. He argued that a strategy to use temporary foreign workers will make it difficult for the province to meet long-run growth targets and to develop long-term labour supply goals.
While the use of temporary foreign workers might allow businesses to expand in the short term, it weakens the long-term labour supply linkages between provinces and makes it more difficult to integrate the younger Aboriginal population into the workforce.
Emery felt the Saskatchewan government’s efforts to address tight labour market conditions have been characterized by a “slow pace of detailed planning” to promote changes to the post secondary education system and to encourage greater labour force participation by under-represented groups.
Instead of relying on temporary workers, he proposed that efforts should focus on attracting and keeping skilled labour in Saskatchewan through interprovincial and international migration.
Historically, the settlement of Saskatchewan relied on the movement of people from elsewhere to start a new life on the prairies. The new Saskatchewan is also looking for people who want to build the future, but relying on temporary foreign workers is not the way to build sustainable communities.

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