Canada says freeze on foreign workers is wake-up call

Fri Apr 25, 2014 4:26pm EDT
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By Frank McGurty

(Reuters) - The Canadian government said on Friday companies should raise wages to encourage more Canadians to apply for unfilled jobs, saying the freeze it imposed this week on restaurants hiring temporary foreign workers is a wake-up call for all employers.

The moratorium is on foreign hires in food-service businesses only. It follows media reports that McDonald's Corp restaurants turned away qualified Canadians while using Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program to fill job openings.

Jason Kenney, the employment and social development minister, said he was distressed that wages in Canada have barely kept pace with inflation since the global economic downturn.

"It's about raising wage rates. It's about increasing salaries. It's about increasing investments in training," he said at a news conference. "We expect to see employers not just in that sector, but in every sector, doing better."

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program was designed to let employers go outside the country for new hires when unable to find locals to do the job.

"Our government has been clear," Kenney said in a statement late Thursday in announcing the freeze. "Canadians must have the first chance at available jobs."

He said the Conservative government is considering unspecified reforms of the program to make sure employers recruit and train Canadians for jobs.

Canada blacklisted three McDonald's restaurants from the program in early April, and the company ended up suspending all applications for temporary foreign worker permits this week while a third party conducted an audit.   Continued...

Canada's Employment and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie