Hiring foreign: A local perspective
McDonald's franchisee speaks out about changes to temporary foreign worker program
Saturday, Aug 09, 2014 06:00 am
• That means out of an estimated 338,000 temporary foreign workers now employed Canada, less than 34,000 will remain.
• Across Canada, McDonald’s now employs 85,000 people. Only four per cent of their employees are temporary foreign workers (about 3,300 people).
• Due to labour shortages, by 2016, owners of the local McDonald’s restaurants are expecting to close between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
• The Alberta Occupational Demand and Supply Outlook recently predicted a shortfall of 96,000 workers in the province by 2023.
Without temporary foreign workers, many daily conveniences will fall by the wayside, and Canadians will be left to pay the bill, said Rob Chiasson, owner of the four St. Albert McDonald’s franchises.
Chiasson spoke before members of the St. Albert Rotary Club Friday morning.
He expects Canada’s economy will see a ripple effect of changes stemming from reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker program. And these changes will affect Canada’s ability to attract other high-skilled workers, and the general cost of living, he said.
“As we endeavour to attract high-skilled workers to Alberta to drive the economy both in Alberta and for the entire country, these high-skilled workers will expect more than a paycheque,” he said.
“Our communities need to offer them greater conveniences and lifestyles. It has to be more attractive than what they are leaving.”
In June, employment minister Jason Kenney announced reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada. Under the new rules, by 2016 companies will not be allowed to have more than 10 per cent of their work force comprised of temporary foreign workers.
In places where the unemployment rate is six per cent or higher, applications to hire temporary foreign workers for food service, accommodation and retail industries will be denied.
The cumulative time workers can stay in Canada was reduced to one year, while the cost for each application was increased to $1,000 from $275.
Chiasson said changes to the program will affect far more than just restaurants, hotels and the retail sector.
The government claims that businesses need only pay their employees more to retain them, he said. But even if restaurants were able to hike their wages, other job sectors would soon have to follow suit, he said.
Chiasson used several examples of how this would have a detrimental effect. He talked about inevitable increases in wages for people working at daycares, nursing homes or extended care facilities, and the janitorial services and cleaning and cooking services provided at such facilities. All of these costs, he said, will be passed on to the end user.
“We have to expect the rise in cost will be passed through to the user and maybe your parent is on a fixed income and they can’t afford the increased cost,” he said. “Maybe you are supporting your parent and this will affect your disposable income.”
But the lack of foreign workers will also create a ripple effect for other businesses and the Canadian economy as a whole, he said.
If restaurants have to reduce their hours, agricultural businesses and farmers will make less profit from selling their products, he said.
Rising labour costs will also impact the construction sector.
Contractors short of labourers will not be able to finish construction on time or without increases to their costs. In return, this will affect the government’s ability to develop badly needed infrastructure, he said.
“And the increased cost of those infrastructure projects will put pressure on budgets and taxes,” he said.
“It’s important not to underestimate the impact on our local economy when 90 per cent of the temporary foreign workers that are living here are going to be sent home.”
Chiasson said the temporary foreign worker program first became available to Canadian employers in response to the recession between 2003 and 2008.
Foreign workers helped businesses flourish during times of high labour shortage. But the program also created more jobs for domestic workers, he said.
“It accelerated growth and just as importantly it improved the work environment for domestic workers by providing stability, consistency and an overall improved work experience,” he said.
In return, Albertans became used to convenient services and staffing hours. Now many of these services will fall by the wayside, he said.
He said his restaurants hire foreign workers out of a need for full-time staff, since others – the youth, elderly and disabled – are often only available part-time.
“We’ve had almost no success retaining (Canadians) because once they come here to Alberta, and they hear about jobs up in the north, right away they disappear,” he said.
“And for example the majority of my domestic staff are students who are not available early morning or late night and it wouldn’t be appropriate to expect them to work during those shifts.”
Since purchasing his business in 2011, the four local McDonald’s restaurants have advertised job availabilities across Canada, hiring people from the Maritimes, Ontario and British Columbia, he said.
Many of them leave within weeks or months for higher-paying jobs in Alberta’s north, he said.
Nonetheless, McDonald’s looks to hire Canadians first, he said.
Incentives to attract Canadians include working with schools, creating scholarship opportunities and offering pay increases, flexible schedules and benefit programs, he said.
And foreign workers are far from a majority of McDonald’s workforce, he said. Out of 85,000 young people employed by the company’s Canadian franchises, only four per cent are foreign workers, he said.
“We work hard to retain our people and pay for experience and we would be delighted to pay a premium for any extra time of availability,” he said.
As a result of changes to the program, he now expects that consumers will see disruptions to his business’ service by the following summer.
A year later, the restaurants will likely have to close during some afternoon hours and late evening and night shifts, he said.
“That’s because the full-time workers that we do have are covering the busiest periods of our day, which start at 5 a.m. and go to about 2 p.m.,” he said.
“And so we don’t expect to be able in the current environment to have enough full-time workers to cover those shifts.”
Chiasson said the human side of the program has been lost in the political shuffle. He shared with the Rotary club a story of one of his employees, a woman from the Philippines, whose husband and two children remain there while she makes a living in St. Albert. Her six-year-old daughter fell seriously ill, and now her income covers her daughter’s medical expenses.
“In two months, she will be sent home,” said an emotional Chiasson.
“(It’s) both a blessing and a curse. She’ll be reunited with her six-year-old daughter who contracted meningitis, but she’ll no longer have a job to pay for her medical bills.”