Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Who's on Secondary?: The Impact of Temporary Foreign Workers on Alberta Construction Employment Patterns

Document type Article
Author Barnetson, Bob
Author Foster, Jason
Journal Labour / Le Travail
Volume 80
Date 2017 Fall
ISSN 1911-4842
Pages 27-53


In 2007, the Alberta government and the Alberta construction industry developed a ten-year strategy to increase the participation of women, youth, Indigenous peoples, and immigrants in construction occupations. At the same time, construction employers began turning to temporary foreign workers (tfws) as an alternative labour supply, and the number of tfws working in Alberta construction jumped dramatically. This article examines the labour market effects of the influx of tfws on employment rates of other marginalized groups in construction occupations. Alberta is a valuable case study because it employed greater numbers of tfws in construction between 2003 and 2013 than any other province. Drawing upon labour market segmentation theory, this study finds that the proportion of traditionally underrepresented workers in construction occupations was essentially unchanged over the study period. These groups of workers experienced higher-than-average employment volitility and remain a secondary source of labour supply. This study also finds that tfws have become a new, hyperflexible source of secondary labour. The article discusses possible explanations for the findings and evaluates the effectiveness of the government's ten-year strategy.