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Minister mulls barring foreign worker program for some fast-food jobs

Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney.


Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney says it may be time to bar the use of the temporary foreign worker program in filling some fast-food job needs because there should be enough Canadians to handle the work.

Mr. Kenney's suggestion came Tuesday in an interview with CBC Radio One in British Columbia amidst a controversy over allegations that some Vancouver Island McDonald's gave a preference to foreign workers acquired through the program over Canadian workers.

Asked why not rule that the fast-food sector couldn't use the program, Mr. Kenney replied, "That's not an unreasonable question."

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He added the issue is worth some analysis.

"I agree that's a very good issue that our officials need to look at. I am skeptical that food-service jobs in urban areas with still relatively high youth unemployment need to use this program," he told CBC Radio.

Mr. Kenney added he had been to small communities on the Canadian Prairies with effective full employment where young people can easily get jobs paying up to $30 an hour in oil fields, for example, so they would not be interested in fast-food work.

"In some cases like that, a limited use of the program may be justifiable."

The NDP has previously raised questions about taking the supply of youthful domestic workers into account for the fast-food sector employment needs, notably McDonald's.

In a statement Tuesday, B.C. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond said "British Columbians will be first in line for jobs in our province," followed by Canadians, immigrants and temporary foreign workers "as a last resort."

When temporary foreign workers are deployed, it must only be after employers have followed a "rigorous process that shows there are no Canadians that can first fill the position," said Ms. Bond.

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Ms. Bond noted that her government has been impressed with the speed of Ottawa's review of problems with the program. "This sets a positive precedent for other employers considering, or already using the program."

A single franchisee who owned three Victoria-area McDonald's was previously under scrutiny over using temporary foreign workers instead of qualified locals, but Employment and Social Development Canada announced Monday it is looking at allegations that operators in Parksville and Lethbridge abused the program.

McDonald's has announced a review of its use of temporary foreign workers over the initial allegations involving Nasib Services Inc., which operated three locations in Victoria. Mr. Kenney specifically praised the fast-food giant for its action.

In a statement responding to the situation, McDonald's Canada said only 4 per cent – or about 3,400 - of its 85,000 employees are temporary foreign workers.

Mr. Kenney said the program is an option of "last resort" to be used only after employers have demonstrated they have actively sought to recruit Canadians.

He said it is "outrageous" when temporary foreign workers are hired, putting a squeeze on full-time workers to the point that they only get enough hours for part-time work.

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"The reason we cracked down so quickly and aggressively in these cases is we want to send a message. If employers are cutting corners in this way, if they're giving hours to temporary workers from abroad as opposed to Canadians, they are clearly in violation of the rules and there will be very serious sanctions."

The minister promised new reforms for the controversial program. "There will be more changes making it even more difficult, particularly in what we would call the general, low skills stream that I'll be announcing next month."

Mr. Kenney did not provide any further details.

He said he has also been talking to proponents of B.C's hoped-for liquafied natural gas sector, which the provincial government is hoping will provide thousands of jobs in northern B.C., about the use of the temporary foreign worker option.

He said that in meetings, attended also by Premier Christy Clark, he warned the proponents they would have to source Canadian workers, invest more in training and focus on younger Canadians and aboriginals living in northern B.C. for those their job needs. "The temporary foreign worker program would only be available as a last and limited resort," he said.

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