VICTORIA — McDonald’s Canada is putting its temporary foreign workers program on hold while a third party conducts an audit on its use of the plan.
Stung by recent criticism of its use of foreign workers, the restaurant chain’s vice-president of human resources Len Jillard said Wednesday the firm needs to pause the plan to prove to Canadians it is not abusing the program or its workers.
Jillard, in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press, said McDonald’s has already informed the federal government about its plans, including federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney.
“The reason why we’re doing that is we want to communicate to everyone we’re taking this very seriously,” Jillard said. “We’re taking a pause. We’re making sure that we’ve got everything in order, which I’m convinced we have.”
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.
Jillard 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.”
In Winnipeg Wednesday, Kenney warned that employers who abuse the temporary foreign workers 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.”
The government is investigating several recent cases, including at the Weyburn restaurant where two long-time waitresses said they were fired and replaced with government-approved temporary foreign workers.
The program is supposed to be used when there are no local residents available for job openings.
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.”