Bennett stands by practice of hiring temporary foreign workers

James McLeod
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Liberal MHA-elect and business owner Cathy Bennett wanted to defend her own practices amid a national controversy over temporary foreign workers and McDonald’s restaurant labour practices.

Cathy Bennett is the Liberal MHA-elect for Virginia Waters, and also a business owner who’s brought in dozens of temporary foreign workers to staff her McDonald’s restaurant franchises. She defended the practice in the wake of a national moratorium on temporary foreign workers for the food services industry. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

Bennett owns several McDonald’s franchises and currently employs 21 temporary foreign workers in her businesses, but she said that she offers top-notch wages and makes every effort to hire Newfoundlanders first.

“When we made a decision to avail of the temporary foreign worker program — which was a very, very difficult decision for me — we didn’t stop recruiting domestically,” she said.

“We continued and actually accelerated the activities that we had to recruit domestically.”

Moratorium on practice

This week, federal employment Minister Jason Kenney announced a moratorium on temporary foreign workers in the food services industry after allegations of exploitive labour practices across the country and accusations that the non-Canadians were displacing Canadians who wanted to work.

Bennett said she didn’t want to talk about the national picture, but she was happy to defend her own business practices.

“Our benefits package, like I’ve said repeatedly, is way ahead of our competitors, not just in salary but in group insurance, in uniform costs, in other benefits that we offer employees,” Bennett said.

“If you’re going to operate a business, you have to operate it in an ethical way, and we do that.”

Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council executive director Richard Alexander said that when it comes to the food service industry, Canadians just aren’t willing to pay the kinds of prices that would support a high enough wage so that businesses can hire only Canadians.

So, he said, unless the government wants to reform employment insurance to force people to take jobs that are open, employers have to bring in people from other parts of the world.

“It’s an optional purchase. They don’t have to do it. They can eat at home,” he said. “Any mild fluctuations in the price of food from a restaurant will have big implications on the bottom line of a business.”

Alexander said the stories about exploitive employers taking advantage of foreign workers is just isolated incidents, and they’re only allegations. He said Kenney’s decision to put a moratorium on the whole sector is a patently political move.

But New Democrat MP Ryan Cleary said he doesn’t think it goes far enough.

Cleary said he’d like to see a moratorium on all temporary foreign workers — not just in the food service industry.

He pointed to a situation he dealt with in 2012 where Guatemalan chicken catchers in St. John’s complained to his office because they weren’t getting paid what the employer originally promised, and they were living in a mould-infested apartment.

“There’s a bigger, broader problem here for the workforce,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure these temporary foreign workers that we bring in have liveable wages in safe working conditions. That’s not happening.”

Cleary said he’s also fielded allegations that McDonald’s has cut hours to some of its part-time employees because it had to give a firm number of hours to temporary foreign workers.

Mary Shortall, president of the NL Federation of Labour, said that part of the problem is the “temporary” part of temporary foreign workers.

She said there’ll always be a need for a small number of temporary workers from other parts of the world, but if there are labour shortages, they should be dealt with through immigration.

“There’s more need for settled people to be here, especially in this province where we have a declining birth rate and an aging population,” she said. “If migrant workers are good enough to work here, they should be good enough to live here.”

Actually, that’s something Bennett said is already happening.

She said employees who have come to work for her under the temporary foreign workers program have actually gone on to transfer their immigration status and move towards permanent citizenship.

“It’s a very cool thing to see,” she said. “There is nothing more humbling than when a person chooses Newfoundland and Labrador as their home.”

Organizations: NL Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • rl
    May 12, 2014 - 07:32

    It is not a racial or ethic thing with the Temporary Foreign Workers program. The issue is these workers in all industries are stealing jobs from citizens and queue jumping to the head of the line up for immigration. The Liberal and Conservative parties and other other political parties are all beholden to the social elite 1% to become their political puppets and screw over all the citizens. This modern form of slave trafficking was put into place by the Liberal Party of Canada and made even worse by the Conservative Party of Canada. Even some of their own supporters are against the TFW. If those foreign workers are Canadian Citizens white, black, brown, yellow, red, etc, I think they would not get hired because they would know the various labour and human rights laws and would not be as exploitable. Canadian employers are corrupt and only want slaves, not staff. Ban the TFW program for all levels of industries, all organizations, all levels of workers in Canada. The employers should pay a living wage or they can cut back their operations to a lower staffing level, too bad so sad. Read the comments from the first city that set of this firestorm now spreading across Canada, Victoria BC. The comments are on Ratemyemployer, Topix (Victoria, BC, Canada), Yelp, The Dirty, Yahoo Answers, "Why Some Immigrants Leave Canada", others.

  • Scott
    April 29, 2014 - 10:55

    Business Man, why don't you put your name forwards, besides hiding some so call title. So far has anyone know your on the government tit. Who making your living under the table. Because according to your answer your just a plain OPPORTUNIST. If you don't understand the article. Its talking about taking advances of people, Glad to see you apart of that so call gangs

    • guy incognito
      April 30, 2014 - 07:23

      Maybe a businessman is McBennett using her nom de guerre. Or one of her associates. Shallow. Or just a troll.

  • Crazy
    April 28, 2014 - 16:53

    Check out the one's in Corner Brook, If you like to hear some shocking stories, Concerning whats going on with our young people. compare to the foreign workers.

  • saelcove
    April 28, 2014 - 11:46

    When is the telegram going to do a story on coleman not paying his bills and ordering people to play his children in certain games

  • Allen
    April 28, 2014 - 05:21

    This suck, I lost my vote, Sorry Cathy I shall remember in 2015

  • BS
    April 27, 2014 - 23:01

    I can't believe she can sit there and say that she was unable to find high school or college kids to work in her restaurants! When I was in school most of my friends or their siblings work in fast food to get spending money.......this is a load of BS on her part, she wanted servants who she could take advantage of and perhaps aren't aware of their rights as a worker!

  • Scott
    April 27, 2014 - 11:12

    Bill, are you saying, Cathy was placing sign in her windows of business, has a false security to our young people, at the same time, she was a owns of agency to import foreign workers, Maybe your right. Cathy Bennett is always saying Bennett group of company. But what are those other company. I only known about McDonald.

  • Bill
    April 27, 2014 - 10:02

    Usually TFWs are hired through an agency, I wonder if Mrs. Bennett has ever owned one such organization. It certainly wouldn't suggest wanting to hire NLers first.

  • Guy incognito
    April 27, 2014 - 07:21

    Why did this story get buried?. It was front page yesterday. Did McBennett threaten to stop buy ads? Curious how her big banner ad looking for workers appeared around this time.

  • walt hanlon
    April 26, 2014 - 20:28

    There should be a limit on how many franchises that one person can own so there can be opportunities for other people to open franchises. There should be a small limit of temporary foreign workers per company, just saying .

  • Tony Chadwick
    April 26, 2014 - 18:53

    Typical self-justification. Ethics out the window when it comes to business profits. No thought for the local unemployed. Another millionaire MHA, looking to improve her bottom at our expense.

    • a business man
      April 27, 2014 - 15:16

      Honestly, I do not use ethics when dealing with business profits. I only consider the law. If a potential stragety is legal, then it is fair game regardless of the impact on the local umemployed or anyone else for that matter. I never have and never will give any though to the local unemployed. I care about my friends, my family, and my profit. The local employed mean nothing to me. Never have and never will. If you care about them, you hire them. Please don't tell others how to run their business, expecially considering that businesses pay taxes and have rights too.

  • Tony Young
    April 26, 2014 - 16:45

    She is a true example of why the program needs to stopped. No one can tell me she can't find full time Newfoundlanders to fill positions at her McDonalds locations. The locations in Corner Brook and Stephenville have approximately 20 tfwers each. My nephew worked at the one in Stephenville for 1.5 years, he stated off at 34 hours per week, 5 tfw arrived and his hours were cut to 26, another 5 arrived and he was cut to 16 hours per week. He had to pack up, leave his home town and move to another province to find a job. Stephenville NL has an unemployment rate around 20%. So she must think people in Stephenville wouldn't work at McDonalds if they could get 40 hours per week at $12.00 per hour? All McDonalds in Canada should be starting staff off at $18.00 per hour and no lower. If she or any other owner can`t afford that, get out of the fast food business.

  • Angie
    April 26, 2014 - 15:15

    What ya bet this lady won't have a cabinet post responsible for job creation. If I needed any more good reasons to quit eating at McDonald's, this is definitely it. I think its time anyway that people rediscovered the advantages of eating at mom and pop restaurants that don't ship their profits - and their jobs - out of the country. Too bad the media hasn't tied this story to the closure this week of Hiscock's restaurant in Grand Falls after 54 years of service to the local community. They just couldn't compete anymore with the franchise crowd.

  • Susan
    April 26, 2014 - 13:36

    I was listening to the Paddy Daly show on Friday, He made a statement concerning what going on with the foreign workers policy, He also said he was talking to couples of Cathy Bennett employee, And they all only had good thing to say about her, Paddy that twice in a couple of weeks you put your foot in your mouth. Tell me what did you expect her employee to say. Paddy there old saying. ( Never Slap The Hand That Feeding You ). If you wanted to find out the truth, ask some of the employee who was laid off, you couldn't get enough hours to met their bills. All our young people are asking for, 40 hours per week.

  • W Bagg
    April 26, 2014 - 08:01

    Yeah, the profit margins are so tight she has to hire TFWs, charge employees for uniforms and she could afford the Liberal Leadership fee. If you offered a living wage you'd have workers, but the wage you are offering is only a living wage in the Phillipines.

    • Yo mama
      April 26, 2014 - 11:54

      Bet it pays more than welfare.

  • Corporate Psycho
    April 26, 2014 - 07:50

    If she hasn't broken the rules then there shouldn't be a problem.

  • PF Murphy
    April 26, 2014 - 07:05

    Well, if Ms. Bennett is recruiting Canadians, I would have thought that she would have availed of the non-cost opportunity to get her top notch salaries out there so people could see them and rush to her employment. As for Mr. Alexander, I think that government should establish educational standards for business people before they are allowed to start a business and then, lacking sufficient education, go bankrupt or make inane statements to the Press. The education should include lots of accounting so the employers would realize that if they pay only garbage wages, there will not be enough money in society for people to buy their products or people will emigrate to other places like Alberta or Ontario to get those higher wages, thus leaving NL with only seniors who are depending on their public pensions or just their OAS, CPP and GIS, if they worked in the private sector, to get by. Perhaps then when Mr. Alexander suggests getting rid of pensions, his business buddies will realize he is really advocating they put themselves out of business a short time down the road.

  • Guy incognito
    April 26, 2014 - 06:57

    There is nothing more humbling than when a person chooses NL as their home?? Humbling? Who does she think she is? She feels humbled by a foreign worker that uses her business as a stepping stone to citizenship and then moves along? Delusions of grandeur?

  • Scott
    April 26, 2014 - 06:41

    Ms Bennett let me get some understanding here, what your really trying to say, If you were giving a choice, you would hide on more of our owns. TRUE? If that the case, I can give you about 50 names of young men and women, That also would include my granddaughter, who also at one time full out application at your place of business, along with a lots more I know, who never receive reply for a job interview. But at that time, you had a sign in the window, looking for employee. Then your talking about bring in foreign workers to build our province, Lady the first thing we got to do, is take care of our owns. People like yourself is there to ship out our young people , then fill the gap with outsiders.

    • a business man
      April 27, 2014 - 15:26

      Hate to say it Scott, but your granddaughter is not OUR own, she is your own. You hire her. I and other business owners should be free to hire the employee that will result in the most profit. Your granddaugher is irrelavant to me, and I am sure I am irrevalant to you. I don't expect you to care about me, so why do you expect business owners to care about your granddaughter?

  • Grandmother
    April 26, 2014 - 05:56

    Cathy Bennett your full of MALARKEY, My grandson work at your place of business, any extra over time and paid holiday that came up, went right to the foreign workers. You young lady isn't for Newfoundlanders. But for yourself, and the almighty dollars.

    • a business man
      April 27, 2014 - 15:31

      Business owners go into business for themselves, not for the benfit of others. All my businesses are managed based on the almighty dollar. Frankly, aside from the law, nothing else matters. If Cathy Bennett is making business decisions based on nothgng except the almighty dollar, then she is EXACTLY the type of politician I am looking for.

  • Guy incognito
    April 26, 2014 - 05:52

    Good thing this scandal didn't come to the surface when McBennett ran for Virginia Park. She barely won as it is. I doubt she'll get in again.