Food industry loses access to foreign worker plan

Cindy E. Harnett / Times Colonist and The Canadian Press 

Employment Minister Jason Kenney is suspending the food services sector’s access to the controversial Temporary Foreign Worker Program in the face of widespread criticism.

A moratorium is being imposed on any new or pending applications related to the food services sector, he said in a statement from Ottawa.

Kenney said the moratorium will remain in place pending a government review of the program.

“We have repeatedly warned employers that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program must only be used as a last and limited resort when Canadians are not available,” he said.

The announcement comes on the heels of a report by the C.D. Howe Institute that is harshly critical of the program, saying it has spurred joblessness in western Canada. The C.D. Howe study says making it easier for employers to hire temporary foreign workers has accelerated the rise in jobless rates in Alberta and British Columbia.

Fast-food giant McDonald’s already announced it is freezing participation in the program after complaints about the use of temporary foreign workers in three of the chain’s restaurants in Victoria prompted the federal government to launch an investigation.

Earlier Thursday, B.C.’s federal NDP had called for a moratorium. In front of a McDonald’s restaurant on Pandora Avenue, employment critic Jinny Sims along with Greater Victoria MPs Murray Rankin and Randall Garrison urged the government to stop the program and order an independent review.

“The bottom line is, there are people living here in Canada who are being laid off or having their hours cut to facilitate the use of foreign workers — this needs to end immediately,” Sims said. “Even McDonald’s has taken action — why hasn’t the government?”

Sims said the NDP is hearing from workers at Wendy’s, Tim Hortons, Dairy Queen and in a broad range of industries who claim they are being exploited. The program is abused across the country and only the government is to blame, she said, citing lack of transparency, no clear rules, and no enforcement agency.

Annette Beech, president of the Victoria Filipino Canadian Caregivers Association, said employers have told workers in several fast food chains and other industries not to speak out or to the media.

Beech said many Filipinos come to Canada under the temporary workers program only to feel like “slave” labour because their stay is tied to their employer. Those workers are now scared about being deported, she said.

About 26 employers on Vancouver Island are making use of program, said Garrison, the MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, “so it’s clearly taking away entry-level jobs from people who are permanent residents or Canadian citizens.”

Rankin, MP for Victoria, said with a double-digit youth unemployment crisis in Canada going into the peak season for student employment, people in Victoria are telling him they have had enough.

Meanwhile, critics have been pushing B.C.’s government to follow Manitoba’s lead and set up a registry of employers that hire temporary foreign workers. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond said her ministry is looking at what other provinces are doing to hold employers accountable. But the government is also awaiting the results of the federal program review.

“We do not want to duplicate efforts while changes to the program are still happening,” she said in a statement.

— with files from Lindsay Kines

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