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Canadian Restaurant Industry Grilled over Foreign Workers
 

By Catherine Skrzypinski  4/29/2014
 

The food services industry in Canada has been suspended from using the country’s temporary foreign worker program in the wake of an investigation over possible abuses of the system.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney said April 24, 2014, that Canadian employers who abuse the program could face fraud charges and possible jail time. “Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs,” Kenney said in response to the allegations against three McDonald’s franchises in Victoria, British Columbia, for employing foreign workers rather than eligible Canadians. “… Our government will take action against employers who abuse the temporary foreign worker program. [E]mployers who break the rules will be publicly named and face serious consequences,” he added.

The moratorium will remain in effect until the completion of the review.

Canada’s temporary foreign worker program helps employers hire skilled employees from abroad when qualified Canadian workers are not available. However, experts say the federal government did not design the program to fill menial jobs at fast-food restaurants.

McDonald’s employs more than 85,000 people in Canada, with temporary foreign workers accounting for 4 percent of its workforce, according to a company statement.

According to the United Steelworkers union, lower-skilled workers admitted to the program can stay in Canada for up to four years. They are required to sign an employment contract that ties them to their employer.

Statistics Canada estimates that around 350,000 immigrants working in the country in 2013 had temporary foreign worker visas for a one-year period.

“The dilemma that we find in Canada is we now have ‘government by corporations, for corporations,’ ” said Naveen P. Mehta, lawyer and director of human rights, equity and diversity at the Toronto-based United Food and Commercial Workers union, in an e-mail to SHRM Online.

“[Canada’s] immigration system—including the temporary foreign worker program—is fundamentally broken,” Mehta added. “The temporary foreign worker program in Canada has been the backbone of a movement toward a low-wage economy with no end in sight.”

Better Work Ethic?

Some Canadian business owners say temporary foreign workers are their hardest-working employees and have a better work ethic than many Canadian employees, stated Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business to CBC News.

Amelia Chan, CHRP, a Canadian immigration consultant based in Vancouver, British Columbia, told SHRM Online HR departments in British Columbia try to hire local applicants but she said they abandon stop-gap positions as soon as they find a job more suitable to their skill set.

“Temporary foreign workers are reliable and are grateful for the work,” Chan added. “Business owners want loyal employees who come to work on time and can be flexible to work different shifts. Employers are happy with [temporary foreign workers’] performance, as they are hard workers.”

Cissy Pau, CHRP, principal consultant at Clear HR Consulting in Vancouver, disagreed with the idea that Canadians have a weaker work ethic than temporary foreign workers.

“Nonforeign workers can also work hard,” Pau noted. “The federal government provides plenty of tools for those [in Canada] legally to enter the job market. You don’t have to be a foreign worker to have a strong work ethic.”

How HR Should Ensure Compliance

Experts say HR professionals need to be in close communication with stakeholders and keep meticulous records if they are exploring the possibility of hiring a foreign worker.

Alex Stojicevic, managing partner at immigration law firm Maynard Kischer Stojicevic in Vancouver, suggested that HR departments tap into the temporary foreign worker program as a last resort, as they will be held responsible for following rigid regulations.

Stojicevic advised employers to ensure federal regulatory compliance by retaining the following information on workers from outside the country:

  • Resumes on file for a minimum of two years.
  • Copies of advertisements used for recruitment purposes.
  • Payroll records and time sheets.
  • Job descriptions.
  • Copies of work permits issued to a foreign worker.
  • Registration with all applicable provincial/territorial workplace safety organizations.

Pau recommended that HR practitioners also consult with an immigration lawyer so that they are up-to-date with the latest rules and regulations.

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

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