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BCBT: Temporary foreign worker program distorting B.C.’s construction industry

By Adam Freill   

Construction Labour

Canada’s immigration system unable to address construction labour needs, says BC Building Trades.

(Cover image courtesy of BC Building Trades)

British Columbia needs more construction workers, and federal programs are failing the industry, says BC Building Trades (BCBT). A newly released report from BCBT suggests that Canada’s immigration system has not only failed to address construction labour shortages, it is actually making the situation worse for workers and the industry.

Recent data indicates the province will need 52,600 new construction workers by 2032 to avoid a disruptive labour shortage. To reach those figures, it is estimated that 30 per cent of those workers will have to come from outside of Canada.

And while the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) was designed specifically to address the construction labour shortage by giving express entry to construction workers, BCBT says the program has failed to achieve that goal.

Between 2019 and 2023, the FSTP welcomed only 240 permanent resident construction workers to B.C. At an average of 48 per year, that represents only 0.2 per cent of economic immigrant migrations.

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The use of the broader economic immigration class to address the construction labour shortage has been similarly disappointing, says the organization. Over the past five years, only 7,000 tradespeople have obtained permanent residency in B.C. through economic class immigration streams. This rate, it says, is far below B.C.’s labour needs and will not provide the permanent skilled trades workforce the province requires to build much needed housing and infrastructure.

As a result of the immigration shortfalls, there has been a massive increase in the use of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

“We are facing a significant labour crunch, and while Canadian construction workers should have first access to available jobs, we recognize the need for new entrants to help meet the growing need for skilled workers,” said BC Building Trades executive director Brynn Bourke. “Instead of ignoring the problem in construction, we’re calling on the Government of Canada to put a special focus on immigration in B.C.”

The use of TFWs has become a permanent fixture of B.C.’s construction industry, with 7,160 workers coming into Canada under the TFWP between 2019 and 2023. While TFWs represent 2.1 per cent of the workforce across Canada, they are disproportionately prevalent in B.C. construction, making up 4.7 per cent of the workforce.

“Too many contractors have become hooked on cheap temporary labour to boost their profits,” said Doug Parton, business manager of Ironworkers Local 97. “As they abuse the TFW system, Canadian workers are paid less and shut out of jobs that should be theirs. That’s not right. The TFW program is hurting Canadians and migrant workers too. The entire system needs an overhaul.”

Canada’s reliance on TFWs has increased by more than 500 per cent since 2010, and construction was specifically exempted from a March announcement of reforms aimed at reducing the number of temporary workers in Canada.

“‘Our union has long been concerned with the way the TFW program is used,” said Mark Olsen, president of LiUNA 1611. “Rather than solving labour shortages in the construction industry, it has enabled contractors to profit from the employment of migrant workers, driving down Canadian wages in the process. We need major changes to the program, now.”

To address the labour shortage, BCBT is calling for action, including a request for an independent audit to investigate the International Mobility Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, as well as a prohibition of activity on construction trades through the IMP and the TFWP until such an audit is complete.

The report, entitled Help Wanted: How Canada’s Immigration System Has Failed to Address the Construction Labour Shortage can be found on the BCBT website. The BC Building Trades represents 18 craft construction unions and more than 45,000 unionized construction workers in B.C.

www.bcbuildingtrades.org

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