Canada restaurants buck foreign worker program changes

Fri May 16, 2014 3:41pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer and Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Possible changes to make it harder to bring temporary foreign workers into Canada may force some restaurants to curb their hours or even shut down, and could hamper important exports if not properly structured, employers groups warned on Friday.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander on Thursday bandied about with employers and unions several ideas for reforming the temporary foreign worker program, which has recently come under enormous criticism.

Participants said options discussed in the meeting included increased government fees for guest workers and requiring employers to pay them more. Others included numerical caps on permits, limiting access in areas of high unemployment and differentiating more between business sectors.

The situation has exploded into one of the top issues facing the government because of stories of foreign workers displacing Canadians at some McDonald's Corp restaurants, complaints from Canadians unable to find jobs, and word of some guest workers being mistreated by their bosses.

The trade group Restaurants Canada was alarmed by the idea of a wage floor for temporary foreign workers, possibly higher than the prevailing wage, and sharply higher government fees.

"To price these temporary foreign worker jobs so high that there's no way that our restaurants will have access to them is going to be really problematic," said Joyce Reynolds, who attended the meeting.

She said a temporary moratorium that Kenney slapped on the restaurant sector last month was already causing "a real feeling of desperation" among restaurant owners in places like Edmonton, capital of the oil province of Alberta.

Kenney did not say what the government should charge for temporary foreign workers but mentioned the possibility of "a dissuasive fee like in the U.S," one participant said. The United States can charge $2,325 or more in combined fees compared with the C$275 ($252) currently charged in Canada, plus a visa fee often of C$150.   Continued...