Canada says freeze on foreign workers is wakeup call

posted on April 28, 2014

By Frank McGurty, Canadian HR Reporter | Link to Article

By Frank McGurty, Canadian HR Reporter | Link to Article

OTTAWA (Reuters) — The Canadian government said on Friday companies should raise wages to encourage more Canadians to apply for unfilled jobs, saying the freeze it imposed this week on restaurants hiring temporary foreign workers is a wakeup call for all employers.

The moratorium is on foreign hires in food-service businesses only. It follows media reports that McDonald’s restaurants turned away qualified Canadians while using Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to fill job openings.

Jason Kenney, the employment and social development minister, said he was distressed that wages in Canada have barely kept pace with inflation since the global economic downturn.

“It’s about raising wage rates. It’s about increasing salaries. It’s about increasing investments in training,” he said at a news conference. “We expect to see employers not just in that sector, but in every sector, doing better.”

The TFWP was designed to let employers go outside the country for new hires when unable to find locals to do the job.

“Our government has been clear,” Kenney said in a statement late Thursday in announcing the freeze. “Canadians must have the first chance at available jobs.”

He said the Conservative government is considering unspecified reforms of the program to make sure employers recruit and train Canadians for jobs.

Canada blacklisted three McDonald’s restaurants from the program in early April, and the company ended up suspending all applications for temporary foreign worker permits this week while a third party conducted an audit.

Tim Hortons, which operates more than 3,500 doughnut and coffee shops in Canada, would not immediately comment on the impact of the moratorium on its operations, but it said that temporary foreign workers account about five per cent of its 90,000-strong Canadian workforce.

The government is no longer processing new applications from food-service businesses and would stop restaurants from hiring foreign temporary workers even if it has already approved applications, Kenney said.

The minister gave no indication that he supported a complete shutdown of the practice of bringing in low-skilled workers, saying only that the moratorium in food services would last until his department completes a general review.

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