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Government not fair to restaurateurs, says MP

Brent Rathgeber criticizes suspension of temporary foreign worker program in fast-food restaurants

By: Viola Pruss

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014 06:00 am

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A suspension of the foreign worker program in Canadian fast-food restaurants has led the local Member of Parliament to raise criticism over fair play by the federal government.

Brent Rathgeber spoke in the House of Commons Monday. He questioned whether the government is punishing those who play by the rules, rather than prosecuting those who break them.

“Mr. Speaker, the government is fond of saying that it defends those who work hard and play by the rules,” he said.

“However, the temporary foreign worker moratorium announced last week is going to punish many hard-working restaurateurs and fast food franchisees.”

On April 24, federal employment minister Jason Kenney announced an immediate moratorium on the fast-food industry’s access to the temporary foreign worker program.

The suspension follows concerns over an investigation into some employers abusing the program by giving foreign workers priority work status or more hours than their Canadian peers.

Rathgeber later told the Gazette that he received eight emails and at least two phone calls from local owners regarding serious concerns over how this decision will affect their businesses.

“The reality is that for some of these restaurateurs and franchisees the temporary foreign worker program ... it’s not an option, it’s a necessity,” he said. “They simply cannot keep their restaurants open, especially those who offer extended hours.”

Rathgeber stressed that he supported enforcing the rules and prosecuting those who break them. But temporary foreign workers are also a reality for hundreds of small businesses in Alberta, where unemployment is less than five per cent, he said.

He added that many employers were advertising their jobs to Canadians first but also suffered applicants who never showed up for an interview or wouldn’t return their phone calls.

“I don’t understand why you punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty, especially given the necessity of this program to my constituents,” he said.

Following Rathgeber’s speech, Kenney responded that the government has been “very clear” that abuses will not be tolerated, but neither “will aspects of the program that might have the effect of distorting the Canadian labour market.”

He suggested that member’s business constituents should increase their wages, improve working conditions, invest in more training, and hire Canadians first.

“We need to be absolutely sure that employers are always, and everywhere, giving Canadians the first crack at available jobs,” he said.

Rathgeber did not know whether the moratorium will end in the foreseeable future but he will continue to be outspoken about this issue, he said.

He advises business owners to continue to educate their customers about this issue and to write letters and make phone calls to their local MPs.

By press time, local franchisees were not available for comment.


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