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Jobs Pizza place faces federal grilling over temporary foreign workers

The Brothere Pub and Grill in the Travelodge Hotel Weyburn, Sask. From its Facebook page.

The owners of a pizza restaurant in Weyburn, Sask., are facing a deluge of online scorn and a federal investigation after two veteran employees said they lost their jobs to temporary foreign workers.

Sandy Nelson and Shauna Jennison-Yung worked 28 and 14 years, respectively, at Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza before learning last month that all staff were being laid off as part of a restructuring. When the dust settled, the temporary foreign workers at the restaurant were retained while the two women said they were not.

"Canadians are being denied jobs," said Ms. Jennison-Yung, who argues problems with the foreign worker program are widespread. "There's no way that we should be – at our ages – out there pounding the pavement, having to take an entry-level job, when we've worked our asses off to get where we are. It's just not right."

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Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney often mentions Weyburn in his speeches as an example of a region where labour shortages are real and the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program is very much needed.

Mr. Kenney set a precedent earlier this month by publicly naming four employers that have been banned or suspended from the program for allegedly breaking the rules, including the owner of three McDonald's franchises in Victoria. That decision was partly in response to a CBC report quoting complaints from former McDonald's employees. The CBC also reported the complaints regarding the restaurant in Weyburn.

Alexandra Fortier, a spokesperson for Mr. Kenney, said the minister's office has asked the department to investigate the allegations against the restaurant.

"Any allegations of abuse will be vigorously investigated," she said in an e-mail, urging anyone with complaints about the program to contact Service Canada. Ms. Nelson and Ms. Jennison-Yung said they first sent their complaint to Mr. Kenney's department on April 7 by e-mail, but did not receive a response.

The restaurant's Facebook page was inundated on Monday with comments from people urging a boycott to protest against the treatment of the two women.

George Siourounis, a co-owner of the restaurant, said by phone on Monday that he has followed the rules of the foreign worker program. He said his lawyer has advised him not to comment on the allegations against his restaurant.

"There's always two sides to the story," he said, adding that privacy concerns prevent him from saying more.

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Speaking in support of B.C. employers after three McDonald's were cited for misuse of the program in early April, Dan Kelly, of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, admitted that the use of the program in depressed urban areas had set off a "powder keg" of discontent, but said the vast majority of cases were justified.

"It's politically incorrect to say, but I've got hundreds and hundreds of pages of comments from business owners telling me that finding people who are available to work and will show up with a smile on their face, and not be on their phone for half the shift, is getting increasingly difficult to do," he said.

"Terrific Canadian workers aren't as plentiful as the employers need."

Catherine Connelly, a Canada Research Chair at McMaster University who was recently awarded a four-year grant to study the program, said she does not see an argument in favour of maintaining the program.

"I think they should cancel it," she said.

With a report from Justin Giovannetti in Vancouver

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