Canada Freezes Hiring of Foreign Workers in Food Services

In a dramatic reaction to recent claims of employer abuse of temporary foreign workers (TFW), Canada’s Employment Minister Jason Kenney has temporarily frozen the hiring of foreign workers within the food service sector.

Kenney’s strong reaction comes in the wake of a series of employer abuse claims from foreign workers in the food service sectors in British Columbia (BC), Alberta and Saskatchewan. In issuing the freeze on hiring foreign workers, Kenney stated that he “wanted to send a message—particularly to the food service sector—that such abuse would not be tolerated.”

However, not everyone welcomed the TFW hiring freeze within the food service industry. Alberta’s Labor Minister Tom Lukaszuk said that it was “unfair to freeze the hiring of an entire sector because there are problems with a few players.”

In recent years, the booming natural resources sector in Western Canada has resulted in a dramatic increase in the hiring of temporary foreign workers, and so it’s no surprise that the Alberta minister’s views are shared by others—particularly in more remote regions where hiring Canadians has been a problem.

There has been an increased focus on the hiring of foreign workers within Canada, especially in the wake of several high-profile reports about alleged abuse within the food service industry; major food retailers, including McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s Donuts, have revoked the franchises of individual owners accused of alleged TFW abuse.

More than 338,000 foreign workers had Canadian work visas in 2012, and—on a per capita basis–Canada leads the Group of Seven nations in overall immigration.

For their part, representatives of Canada’s food service sector expressed shock and anger at the sudden change in the TFW hiring policy.

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business—whose 109,000 members includes about 10,000 businesses in the hospitality sector affected by the TFW freeze—warned that some of his members may have to shut down their businesses if they can’t continue to hire temporary foreign workers.

Kelly said that rather than going after the problem of alleged abuse of foreign workers in the food service sector, the government has instead chosen to “eliminate access to the program for thousands and thousands of businesses.”  He added that about 10 percent of his 109,000 members currently hire workers under the TFW program.

Criticism of the TFW program has also come from the academic world. The same day that the government froze the hiring of foreign workers in the food service sector, the nationally respected Canadian think tank—the C.D. Howe Institute—criticized the government for repeatedly easing the rules for hiring foreigners between 2002 and 2013. The institute said there was “little empirical evidence of shortages in many occupations” across Canada that would justify the hiring of additional foreigners.