McDonald’s Canada says temporary foreign workers are a necessary ingredient in the fast-food chain’s business model, but until the company satisfies itself and Canadians that it doesn’t abuse the federal jobs initiative, its use of the program is on hold.
Stung by recent criticism of its use of temporary foreign workers, McDonald’s senior vice-president of human resources Len Jillard said Wednesday the firm will suspend the program while an audit by a third party determines if there have been violations or abuse of workers — foreign or Canadian.
“The reason why we’re doing that is we want to communicate to everyone we’re taking this very seriously,” Jillard said in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press. “We’re taking a pause. We’re making sure that we’ve got everything in order, which I’m convinced we have.”
Jillard said McDonald’s had already informed federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney.
In Winnipeg on Wednesday, Kenney called the actions by McDonald’s responsible.
“And, quite frankly, I would encourage other companies to more closely look at their own practices, especially for these companies that have franchise operations where they may not be directly dealing with the day-to-day management decisions.”
Jillard said McDonald’s is voluntarily suspending its use of federal Labour Market Opinion applications for all of its Canadian restaurants for the hiring of temporary foreign workers.
The LMO process is designed to ensure there are no Canadian workers available before a company receives permission to hire foreign workers.
Three McDonald’s franchises in Victoria and a pizza restaurant in Weyburn, Sask., are at the centre of program abuse allegations involving Canadian employees alleging foreign workers were given priority work status, and in some cases took their jobs.
McDonald’s is in the process of taking full ownership of the three Victoria franchises from the Victoria operator who previously held an 80 per cent share in the three outlets.
Shortly after the Victoria restaurants were singled out by the federal government for breaking the rules, B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair called on the company to stop using the program and asked the government to eliminate the use of the temporary workers for entry-level jobs.
“If McDonald’s does not take action to achieve these solutions, the B.C. Federation of Labour will consider further actions, including but not limited to, calling for a boycott of McDonald’s,” read the letter Sinclair sent to McDonald’s CEO John Betts.
Irene Lanzinger, the secretary treasurer with B.C. Federation of Labour, said in an interview Wednesday that McDonald’s still had not gone far enough to solve the problem.
“They’ve taken some steps to deal with that, but really they should show a commitment to hiring Canadian residents for these jobs.”
Jillard said McDonald’s continues to support hiring temporary foreign workers to alleviate labour shortages in some markets, especially in small-town, but booming, Western Canada.
He said the company was setting up the terms of reference for the third-party analysis, but hadn’t yet hired the firm that would do the work.
“It’s responsible for us as a reinforcement of our core value of being responsible, ethical and caring for our employees that we take this pause right now.”
Four per cent of the more than 80,000 McDonald’s employees in Canada are temporary foreign workers, Jillard said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Kenney warned that employers who abuse the program could face fraud charges and possible jail time.
The minister said the federal government believes the number of abusers is small, but penalties can be strong.
“If an employer lies on their application for this program ... that could constitute fraud, potentially, under the Immigration Act, which is a criminal offence punishable with jail time or very severe penalties,” Kenney said when asked about the program during a news conference on job-training.
“We’re putting, I think, the small number of abusive, bad employers on notice that we won’t tolerate that.”
Kenney said a bill now before Parliament would make it easier to impose administrative penalties on employers who break the rules. He also said the government has beefed up the program requirements to help prevent abuse.
“We’ve extended the advertising requirements for employers. We ensure that they pay what’s called the prevailing regional wage rate, which is effectively often more than what starting local employees get paid, and we’re now charging employers fees when they apply for the program.”
By Dirk Meissner
THE CANADIAN PRESS—VICTORIA