By Todd Humber
Who knew uttering the phrase “Do you want fries with that?” was such a difficult skill to master.
That’s the only possible explanation for news that broke on Monday that the federal government is investigating three McDonald’s locations in Victoria for a violation of the embattled Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program. It allegedly hired foreign workers over Canadian applicants, according to a Canadian Press report.
It’s the latest black eye for the TFW program, which took a beating last year when it was revealed the Royal Bank was using temporary foreign workers to displace Canadian workers. With an economy seemingly forever stuck in recovery mode, it’s difficult to make a strong argument that McDonald’s couldn’t find workers in Victoria — with a current unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent — to staff its positions.
It’s even harder to fathom when the unemployment rate for young workers remains in the double digits, and applicants have already started to come out of the woodwork stating that they applied to the McDonald’s locations in questions and couldn’t get a job.
McDonald’s moved quickly to distance itself from the franchisee in question who runs the three restaurants, saying it had launched its own investigation.
“At McDonald's Canada, we do not tolerate infractions of any kind — intended or unintended,'' said the company in a statement. ``We are currently working through the process of terminating our relationship with this franchisee.''
McDonald’s later said it would assume 100 per cent control of the three restaurants in question. The restaurants currently employ 155 workers, including 26 foreign workers, according to McDonald’s.
Ottawa clearly isn’t amused at the abuse, and has reacted swiftly — suspending the labour market opinions for the franchise in question, and also singling out two other employers for wrongdoing on the TFW front: The Boathouse Restaurant in Fenelon Falls, Ont. — which had its LMO revoked; and Jungle Jim’s Restaurant and Greco Pizza in Labrador, N.L. — which, like McDonald’s, had its LMO suspended. (You can view its list of blacklisted employers online on the Employment and Social Development Canada website.)
“Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs. Our government will not tolerate any abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” said Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development. “(This) sends a clear message that we are taking action against employers who abuse the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and that employers who break the rules will be publically named and face serious consequences.”
Those consequences could include financial penalties as well. Kenney said the penalties for a prosecution include up to five years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines, and charges could be laid by the Canada Border Services Agency under the Immigration Act. And Ottawa has already said it plans to beef up the penalties by 2015 for employers that abuse the TFWP
The three businesses named above are likely just the tip of the iceberg. Some estimates put the number of temporary foreign workers in the country as high as 340,000, and it’s impossible to think similar abuses aren’t occurring elsewhere.
These abuses of the TFW program have to make employers collectively cringe. The public backlash against RBC last year showed the tolerance of Canadians has hit its breaking point. McDonald’s knows this, and that’s why it acted so quickly and decisively to take complete control of the restaurants under investigation.
Let’s remember, though, not to let a few bad apples spoil the bunch. The TFW program is still critical to the Canadian economy, and a critical source of talent for employers in occupations and geographic locations facing a true skills shortage.
Bringing in a temporary foreign workers to staff a fast-food restaurant in a booming resource town like Fort McMurray, Alta., is understandable when they literally can’t find enough workers to keep the doors open.
But using the TFW program to staff non-skilled positions in populated areas with plenty of unemployed workers won’t be tolerated by the public, and Ottawa has caught on to that — expect plenty of aggressive crackdowns in the coming weeks and months.
That blacklist is going to get longer.