Government Probes Possible Abuses of Temporary Foreign Worker Program

By James Metcalfe | April 14, 2014

James Metcalfe | Pace Law Firm | Director of Immigration: One of the most interesting recent developments in Canadian immigration policy is criticism of the issuance of work permits to persons working in low skilled jobs, including fast food outlets and the like.

Recent press reports out of British Columbia told a story of persons who were hired in the Philippines to work at McDonalds at a hirer wage than that which was offered to Canadians. In turn, the government has opened an investigation:

McDonald’s is under federal investigation over possible abuses of the Temporary Foreign Worker program at a franchise outlet in B.C.

“The pattern is that the temporary foreign workers are getting more shifts and that the Canadians are getting less,” said employee Kalen Christ, a McDonald’s “team leader” who has worked at the Victoria location for four years.

As a result of Go Public’s inquiries, the government has suspended all pending foreign worker permits for the three McDonald’s locations owned by franchisee Glen Bishop and has blacklisted his franchise from using the program, pending the outcome of the probe.

The usual argument for this kind of thing is that there are some jobs Canadians “won’t do,” and therefore you need foreign workers to do them. However, apparently there were indeed Canadian residents willing to work at these wages:

The government probe began after Christ told Go Public the fast food outlet is bringing in Filipino workers while cutting local staffers’ hours and turning away dozens of seemingly qualified Canadians seeking jobs.

“I saw them walk in and apply. I saw the resumés, and there were lots,” said Christ. He said he has seen 50 resumés submitted by local applicants at the Pandora Avenue franchise in recent months.

“It’s sad. Some of them would have university on their resumé, and they weren’t being hired, even at McDonald’s.”

He said a manager told staff the store wasn’t hiring because up to nine new Filipino workers were coming, who still haven’t arrived.

From my perspective, the issue is not really the availability of qualified workers in Canada, but the turnover of staff at fast food outlets.

Years ago, I had a friend who owned a Tim Horton’s. He spent about 25 percent of his time hiring new staff, because workers would change jobs for a small increase in salary. This kind of job swapping isn’t an option for foreign workers. Foreign workers on work permits do not have the luxury of quitting and moving down the street for a few more dollars a week, as their work permits are employer specific.When I studied economics in university, I was taught that wages should rise if there is a shortage of workers. This theory is sound, but it obviously does not work when you can bring workers in and tie them to their jobs.

It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out over the coming months.