Changes to temporary foreign workers program will have long-term negative affects, industry proponents say

Harry Sullivan
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TRURO - The federal government's tinkering with the temporary foreign workers program is creating havoc in the labour markets which is only going to get worse, a local restaurant owner says.

The McDonalds restaurants in Truro experiencing staffing difficulties following a recent moratorium on the federal temporary foreign workers program, and the situation will only get worse, the local owners says.

"I can tell you it hasn't helped at all," Truro McDonald's owner Larry Swenson said, of the federal government's recent decision to place a moratorium on the use of temporary foreign workers and the subsequent changes made to the program.

"I can tell you that this government's approach to this didn't help because it made it very uncertain whether or not they were going to get work permits," he said, of the Filipino workers he had previously hired for his three locations.

"And it was very costly for me as a businessman because I had invested quite a bit of money in this program. It was just one of those cases where the government introduced a policy where there was no winners. That's just the way it is."

That position was supported by Garth Whyte, president of Restaurants Canada (formerly the Canadian Restaurant and Food Association), who said the labour situation - both within and outside of the food service industry - is going to suffer because Canada's long-term demographics "are not on our side.

"So unless the government comes up with a different program that gets workers into this country I don't know what is going to happen to the economy," he said.

"Essentially the moratorium is continuing in our minds. In theory they've lifted it but they've made the rules so restrictive and they restricted it to one year. They've increased the costs and they've defined the regions but not the sub regions. They've made it very, very difficult to proceed with the program," Whyte said.

"And this is bigger than temporary foreign workers. We're talking about a shortage of labour that is coming. It's already happening in some regions and it's coming across the country. And in eastern Canada there's a shortage in particular of cooks and semi skilled jobs because they're going to Alberta. So it makes it very, very difficult."

Swenson said he lost his some of his foreign workers to Alberta and Halifax following the moratorium when he could not offer assurances that they could be reinstated.

"We have had challenges getting people," he said, adding some of his overnight shifts at the Robie Street franchise have had to be cancelled because of the situation.

"We have to close it on some nights because we just can't get the staff to work it," Swenson said.

"The long and the short of it is, for a small business, this program has been a disaster."

And Swenson agreed with Whyte's assessment that the moratorium and subsequent changes to the program - which began when the government determined some employers were abusing it by failing to ensure local help was not available - will have long-standing implications.

"It affects a lot of people, (both within and outside the food service industry)," he said.

"For us it was difficult. And we will get through it but we'll get through it with fewer people. But long term, the demographics are not on our side. So unless the government comes up with a different program that gets workers into this country I don't know what is going to happen to the economy."

Twitter: @tdnharry


Organizations: Restaurants Canada, Canadian Restaurant and Food Association

Geographic location: Canada, Alberta, Halifax Robie Street

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Recent comments

  • Ryan R.
    July 30, 2014 - 01:02

    With 1.5 million unemployed Canadians and an undocumented surplus of under emplyed Canadians, the LAST thing we need is more TFW's! Get them out of this country!

  • Chris Wisdom
    July 29, 2014 - 19:06

    Bad enough thousands of unneeded immigrants come here each year.Start giving jobs to Canadians and only Canadians.

  • Immigration Watch Canada
    July 28, 2014 - 15:52

    Great comments !! For some more depth on this issue, see

  • Jenny
    July 27, 2014 - 18:43

    Why would you even start a business if you cannot fill it with Labor ? The TFW should be scrapped and put permanent inmmigration in place to avoid widespread abuses.

  • G0OS3
    July 27, 2014 - 16:58

    These greedy employers want cheap labour. Pay people a decent wage and you can attract all the skilled workers needed. The Foreign Workers Program needs to be shut down. There is no shortage of workers.

  • Greg F
    July 27, 2014 - 10:39

    Just another good reason why I do not eat at McDonald's anymore. My recent experience at Tim Horton's (How can you mistake regular for de-caf after stating 3 times regular with double cream) will be the last time I go there also. These jobs used to be for high school and post econdary students. Corporate greed has taken over. There was a time when these places were not open 24 hours and many places were closed on Sundays. I'm not pining for the "old" days but pointing out that greed has taken over the Corporate world big time. There used to be 2 way loyalty between employers and employees. Not any more. If Mr. Swenson spent half the money he's spent on the foreign workers raising wages and hiring locally he might be surprised at the increase in respect he would get from his workers and the community at large.

  • Robert M.
    July 27, 2014 - 09:07

    pay a fair wage, hire Canadians or go out of is that simple

  • Robert M.
    July 27, 2014 - 08:44

    I guess you might just have to break down and hire Canadians....maybe even give a fair wage and working conditions.... What a unique concept

  • Charles
    July 27, 2014 - 05:28

    I doubt very much that the huge percentage of people out of work or their friends or relatives feel any pity for your position. I stopped going to restaurants some time ago that hire foreign workers. There is strong evidence across the country that you exploit these workers and use their fears of the system to manipulate them. frankly I don't believe your claims of the sky falling little chicken mcnugget

  • Anon
    July 26, 2014 - 12:55

    Hey, I have applied to McDonalds several times. I have lots of experience in the field, over 9 years worth. I'm great with customers, and I'm also a father of 2 and one on the way. I live in Truro, not very far from this store. Yet, I was passed over and the job went to a Foreign worker. How do I know this? I have friends who work there. I've been trying to make a go of it in this town and there's NO WORK. Maybe if you hired people that are qualified and are ACTUAL CITIZENS OF THE COUNTRY, we wouln't have had this problem in the first place. Sigh. So sick of hearing about how this is bad for the foreign workers and the company. Pay people what they deserve in fast food, and you'll get people that can actually work, as opposed to 15 year olds and people who barely speak the language in a country they moved to. GAH

  • Bev
    July 26, 2014 - 12:00

    It's all a big show not opening that store at night. I know 2 kids that work there that offered to work the night shift and they were told no there wasn't going to be night shifts. Larry just want to get the public upset when they drive by and see the restaurant closed certain nights. Larry has the workers he is just trying to prove a point. Well there are lots of people to work all the rest of the restaurants in Truro funny McDonalds is the only one closing ??? Maybe because it was only Larry who paid all that money out to have foreign workers come here and take Canadains jobs. Well Larry don't look like your plan is working people in Truro arnt getting upset enough to cause a scene because they can't get a hamburger on thoses nights. So just give in Larry and start letting the people from Truro who wants to work thoses nights you shut down McDonalds let them work. Stop with your temper tantrum and get on with opening your store back up or leave it closed looks like it's not hurting anyone but you that it's closed those nights. That's what happens you get to big for your britches and think you can do what ever you want and people and company's like you don't like to be told NO. Guess what Larry you were told NO so move on.

  • Gordon McDonald
    July 26, 2014 - 08:51

    With an 11.3 - 14.1 percent unemployment rate in Nova Scotia, depending on the area, i find it hard to believe you need temporary foreign workers. Why not pay a better wage to employees? Maybe they could take it out of the 2.5 Billion in profits they made in the 3rd quarter of 2013. I also find it ironic that McDonlad's was just one of the companies that complained to the government about the increase in minimum wage last year and how it was going to hurt their businesses. Just something to think about.

  • David Watters
    July 25, 2014 - 22:35

    If these restaurants paid a decent living wage they would not have any problems with staffing. "And it was very costly for me as a businessman because I had invested quite a bit of money in this program." If you spent this money on increased wages I assure you there would be no labour issues.

  • Thadeus P. Thudpacker
    July 25, 2014 - 20:24

    I believe if you pay your workers a decent wage, give them a 40 hour work week and treat them with respect, you won't have any trouble recruiting staff. It's pretty hard to pay the rent and eat too on minimum wage and only getting one or two shifts a week. The problem is of McDonald's own creation.

  • Robert M.
    July 25, 2014 - 19:21

    raise your wage and hire Canadians...Greed is never something to brag about...