McDonald's is launching a comprehensive review of its use of temporary foreign workers in Canada after the federal government suspended a franchise owner who operates three locations in Victoria.
For the first time, the federal government is publicly naming employers who have been banned or suspended from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for breaking the rules – including one of the world's most recognizable corporate brands.
Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney said he welcomed McDonald's response to allegations that the program was misused and warned all employers that Ottawa will pursue criminal charges if employers lie in their applications to bring in labour from abroad.
"I would call on any major corporations that have franchises to make sure that their franchisees are scrupulously following the rules," he told reporters Monday. "I can tell you that we are going to spare no effort to go after those who abuse this program."
The operator of the McDonald's franchises – Nasib Services Inc. – has been suspended in part because the government says there are reasonable grounds to suspect the employer provided false, misleading or inaccurate information in applying to the program.
A numbered company in Newfoundland and Labrador, which operates Jungle Jim's Restaurant, Greco Pizza and Captain Sub, was also suspended for the same reason. Another numbered company in Fenelon Falls, Ont., that operates The Boathouse Restaurant has had its access to the program revoked.
Mr. Kenney said investigations related to the named companies are continuing.
The Conservative government has been repeatedly criticized for maintaining an empty blacklist of employers that have been banned from using the program. The list is maintained by Citizenship and Immigration Canada but there are no employers on the list. Mr. Kenney said regulations have recently been changed to make it easier for Ottawa to identify suspended employers.
NDP MP Jinny Sims said Mr. Kenney's department should not have approved the workers for McDonald's in the first place because Victoria is a desirable city to live in that has a large student population.
"Alarm bells should have been going off," she said.
McDonald's Canada said in a statement that it is currently working through the process of "terminating" its relationship with the Victoria franchisee and will launch an immediate, comprehensive review of how all of its restaurants use the program.
"At McDonald's Canada, we do not tolerate infractions of any kind – intended or unintended – against any employees. Our commitment to employees is to always do the right thing and with integrity," said a statement on the company website.
The company said only 4 per cent of its 85,000 employees are temporary foreign workers, which would represent about 3,400 workers.
Steve Hunt, Western Canadian director of the United Steelworkers, said the problems are being resolved one case at a time rather than reviewing the entire program.
He said workers who come to Canada under the program are afraid to speak up because their employers hold the key to whether they will be able to remain in Canada.
"It's toxic. As Canadians, I don't know how we tolerate it," he said.
B.C. Labour Minister Shirley Bond applauded Ottawa's crackdown. "There should be no abuse of the temporary foreign worker program and if there is, there needs to be consequences applied very quickly," she said.
She noted that the B.C. government is developing a protocol with labour and industry about when it is appropriate to use the program, and what standards should be in place. "It's pretty clear there were British Columbians available for those jobs," she said.