Have trade, will travel

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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Apprentices willing to leave home, but can’t find work

Ben Stacey of Grand Bank is speaking out about a lack of work for apprentices in skilled trades, both in Newfoundland and Alberta. Stacey says a foreign workers program in Alberta has meant even fewer jobs for Newfoundlanders.

Ben Stacey of Grand Bank is a journeyman pipefitter and pipe insulator who travels back and forth between Newfoundland and Alberta for work.

He’s been doing this since 2007, working at places like the Marystown Shipyard and taking jobs out West when there’s no local work available.

Following in his father’s footsteps, his son has completed nine months of college and is now a first-year apprentice, but Stacey said his search for work has been discouraging.

Although he’s also willing to work outside the province, Stacey said no one seems to be hiring apprentices in this province or elsewhere because they want experienced workers.

And, on top of this, Stacey contends the hiring of more foreign workers recently in Alberta is reducing the number of jobs for Newfoundlanders, who have traditionally migrated to Western Canada to work.

Apprentices need hours of work and experience to obtain a journeyman’s certificate. They also need work to pay off student loans, which Stacey said can be as high as $12,000 to $13,000 for a nine-month course at a private college.

Stacey said his son has “bombarded Alberta with resumés, Quebec and everywhere in Newfoundland and, still nothing.”

He recently got a job with an aerodynamics company in Grand Bank. But Stacey said there’s not much work in his hometown and, previously, he was working at a local fast-food takeout.

Stacey has been collecting emails about apprentices with similar stories.

“These kids, after a couple of years of frustration, they go into a rut. I’ve talked to several of them personally,” he said.

Stacey said he believes both levels of government have “hung these kids out to dry,” because they were encouraged to go to school and get a trade and, now, there’s no work for them.

He worries jobs in Alberta for Canadian tradespeople, especially apprentices, will continue to decline as the number of foreign workers rise.

Stacey said he’s witnessed this first-hand. He said he was laid off recently in Alberta, while about 80 to 90 Filipino workers were still on the job. Being an experienced journeyman, Stacey said, he can usually find work on other projects, but young apprentices are not so fortunate.

Stacey insists the issue has nothing to do with race or racism. “These people are wonderful to work with,” he said. “But that’s not the issue. The issue is our people are having to stay home.”

The Alberta government estimates more than 60,000 temporary foreign workers currently work and live in that province.

Stacey suspects companies are hiring foreign workers to cut costs. He said he’s witnessed some foreign workers in Alberta working 20 days straight and only taking two days off, then working another 20-day period.

Newfoundland tradespeople in Alberta normally work a 20-day stint and are flown home for eight days, Stacey said. So, by employing foreign workers who expect less, he said, the companies are saving the cost of airfare and six days’ leave for each worker.

Stacey said he’s taken a lot of applications to Alberta to try to help young Newfoundland apprentices get work and finds it disturbing that Canadian tradespeople are “sitting home,” while foreigners are being brought into the country.

There was a time, he said, when this could only happen if it was proven a worker with a particular skill wasn’t available in Canada.

This issue is not only being debated among unemployed tradespeople in Newfoundland.

“These kids, after a couple of years of frustration, they go into a rut. I’ve talked to several of them personally.” Ben Stacey

The Alberta Federation of Labour, in a news release on Sept. 3, called for the “Temporary Foreign Worker” program to be scrapped.

The program, which stems from an agreement between the federal and provincial governments, was designed to help employers fill temporary jobs during Alberta’s boom period.

The labour federation there, however, claims the program has become “so dysfunctional that it needs to be scrapped.”

Secretary-treasurer Nancy Furlong said tens of thousands of undocumented foreign workers are becoming an “underground workforce,” vulnerable to abuse.

“Almost three-quarters of employers of temporary foreign workers inspected by the province in the past year violated employment standards, according to documents released earlier this year by the Alberta NDP,” Furlong said. “We also know that many foreign workers have to pay illegal fees of thousands of dollars to recruitment agencies, are forced to work unpaid overtime and live in substandard housing with exorbitant rents, and are misled into thinking they will be able to apply for citizenship in Canada.”

Nancy Furlong has suggested the Alberta government scrap the program and replace it with immigration through regular channels.

The Alberta government announced in September that it was investing $850,000 in immigrant-serving agencies to provide services to temporary foreign workers as they adjust to life and work in Alberta.

At the same time, the province said it would look at the impact of the arrival of thousands of temporary foreign workers on Alberta’s workforce, its communities and its people to identify future programming options.

Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said while the focus will “always be jobs for Albertans and Canadians first, it is important that we recognize the contributions of temporary foreign workers to our province — making them feel welcome and included in our communities is simply the right thing to do.”

Lukaszuk said he has asked his parliamentary assistant, Teresa Woo-Paw, to lead a review of the impact of the program on Alberta and present her findings and recommendations by spring 2011.

Stacey said he has contacted provincial and federal politicians and plans to present information he’s collected from other people in this province to present to both levels of government.

He’s already heard from apprentice steamfitters, pipefitters, pipe insulators, heavy equipment operators, electricians and other tradespeople who need work.

One person who finished an industrial instrumentation technician program at the College of the North Atlantic in 2009 said he has had no luck yet getting any work in his trade.

A mother told Stacey that her son and two of his friends completed electrical and commercial trades last year and can’t find work, despite all three having averages above 85 per cent.

Stacey said one man he’s spoken with has three trades and still can’t find work.

When student loans are due and there’s no work to be found, he said, often the only option is to go back to school and take more courses, with the hope of eventually landing a job.

Otherwise, these tradespeople have no means to pay off their student debt.


Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Grand Bank, Newfoundland.The Alberta Federation of Labour Alberta NDP

Geographic location: Alberta, Newfoundland, Western Canada Quebec Alberta.At

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Recent comments

  • Brad
    October 14, 2010 - 10:47

    Living in FT. Mac for 21 years you make a valid point, but one thing you forget is that we are all Canadians and it is a free country where people can travel freely from province to province to work. We all pay taxes so yes people commuting back and forth are contributing. If you want to pass blame then why don't you blame the government for being poorly prepared for the boom experienced there. People going to Ft. Mac can't build housing or other infrastructure, that is governments responsibility, and the reason the cost of living is so high. Don't worry though soon you won't understand the language of the people complaining as there is going to be a huge influx of immigrant labor. Enjoy.

  • California Pete
    October 13, 2010 - 12:55

    I am a holder of a journeyman's paper and this is where I ended up to have full employment 6 days a week 52 weeks a year. Never been out of work for 40 years but this is what it took. I would have loved to stay in NL. but after losing my job 3 times in one year up there this is what I did, to bad but had no choice.

  • Living in Ft.Mc for 21 years
    October 13, 2010 - 12:11

    Folks you really need to understand that Fort McMurray & Alberta has carried and still carries many newfoundlanders. Problem is you come up here with the "cocky attitudes" bitchin and whining about how"ye hates it here" - demanding top dollars for inexperince - fly in/fly out, camp accomendations, you want everything but not not willing to contribute to the city - Fort McMurray's cost of living has gone up - and the locals have to pay all the taxes while ye come up here and expect everything........ then we go to Northern Lights Regional and the hospital is lined up with workers from other provinces here working but hurt on the job, or "i'm only gonna work for 3 months then take a layoff - we're sick of it. You want the benefits but don't want to sacrifice or contribute. Be thankful for what ye sucked outta Fort McMurray or Alberta for that matter - Why arn't going after Danny Williams to generate work? I'm from St. John's and left 21 years ago to seek work - and made the best of it- Appreciated every opportunity I've received.

    • eastcoast electrician
      October 13, 2010 - 20:38

      Well well well, another ex-patriate newfoundlander with his head buried in the alberta tarsands! Blaming all the rest of canada for their problems. Maybe you should call your premier and ask him to share some of that $850,000 he is using for the temporary foreign worker "feel good" program. That's where all your tax dollars are going, not in the pockets of other canadian workers just trying to make a living. The alberta government has had the Ft. McMurray cash cow since the mid-60's and has not even upgraded the "one" lane high-way in and out of ft. mac. You have the same airport, and same infrastructure with little or no increase in services. YOU get off your ass and get after your local politicians to get a bigger share for the people of ft. mcmurray. If the alberta government put a little more effort into making ft. mcmurray a more affordable and safer place to live, then maybe more canadians would choose to re-locate there, instead of commuting. By the way buddy, the influx of TFW's, (60,000) is going to bring down YOUR wages, but your costs are going to stay the same or go up. I guess this is the way alberta's tax dollars work :)

    • John Newfie
      October 17, 2010 - 20:37

      I noticed you said you were from St. John's and not Newfoundland. Not a problem to know that by the way you insulted Newfoundlanders. We know what Alberta has done for ALL Canadians in the way of jobs and we are grateful. We have been paying taxes, CPP and EI all our working lives. We are Canadians and WE should be given first chance at jobs in Canada. We do not have anything against other people from around the world working in Canada as long as Canadians are working .

  • Red
    October 13, 2010 - 10:43

    These people need to get off their asses and go to where the work is. Do you know how many resumes companies get these days? Noone looks at them anymore, why would they when they have plenty of people applying in person. If you are sitting around home waiting for someone to land you a job, you don't deserve one. I had to pack up and move away to find work, and it is the hardest and best decision I have ever made. I also think they should stop this temporary foriegn work service until we find that there is a need. This type of program lowers the average payscale, and takes food from the mouths of Canadians, and is only allowed because the companies can use and abuse them and make more profit. Also Newfoundfland companies need to stop looking for 15 years experience and start hiring apprentices. Most of the workforce these days are babyboomers and when they are gone who will fill the void if we only have apprentices?

  • ConcernedCanadian
    October 13, 2010 - 08:49

    Companies in Canada need to start looking inside of Canada for workers before going to foreign countries. Hiring Filipino's does not help the Canadian Economy, nor the Canadian people. If all domestic channels have been exhausted, then yes, by all means, hire outside of Canada. I have no discrimination against foreign people, but it doesn't make sense to leave Canadians out of work and hire abroad when we can do the work here. If that means the Federal and Provincial government needs include legislation to prevent this, then so be it.

    • eastcoast electrician
      October 13, 2010 - 10:37

      I recently returned from working in Alberta and witnessed the same thing as Mr. Stacy. I am also a Journeyman and can find a job in canada when I need one. Mr. Stacy is right, it's the young apprentices who are suffering because the powers that be in Alberta are hiring and retaining the foriegn workers. Something needs to be done about this now. There has been a long standing anti-east coast sentiment among the Alberta politicians and trades people as indicated by Ralph Klein's statements in the '80's and now the rhetoric from the mayor of Ft.McMurray, requesting that tradespeople travelling within Canada to work in Ft. McMurray be required to take up residence in the city and abolish all flight programs to the east coast of Canada. I wonder if she is demanding the same of the temporary workers!?!?! Our young men/women deserve better from their government.. We all need to voice our concern and stand up for our apprentices. Hats off to you Mr. Stacy.. we need more good men like you in government.