(Adds background on foreign worker issues, government actions, quote from employment minister spokeswoman; paragraphs 3-7, 8-12)
By Julie Gordon
VANCOUVER, April 23 (Reuters) - The Canadian unit of McDonald’s Corp has suspended all of its applications under the country’s temporary foreign worker program as its undergoes a third-party audit on its use, the restaurant chain said on Wednesday.
The move comes after the fast-food giant was criticized in media reports in recent weeks about its use of the Canadian government plan, which allows companies to bring in foreign workers when there are no local residents available.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported this month that a franchise owner in Victoria, British Columbia, was bringing in foreign workers for three locations while at the same time turning away seemingly qualified Canadians seeking jobs and cutting local staffers’ hours.
That was followed by similar media reports involving other McDonald’s restaurants in Western Canada, prompting the federal government to launch a probe of the fast-food chain’s use of the program.
The company has cut ties with the Victoria franchise-owner, but has defended its broader use of the program, noting that it uses the temporary foreign worker program only as a “last resort” in markets where there are severe labor shortages.
“Of our more than 85,000 employees nationwide, temporary foreign workers account for approximately 4 percent of our workforce,” the company said in a statement.
While McDonald’s has frozen all applications during its review, the company said, it continues to support the program and expects to continue participating in it.
The company said the freeze will not affect the temporary foreign workers it employs who already have work permits.
McDonald’s is not the only company to face a backlash over its use of the controversial program.
The Royal Bank of Canada was heavily criticized last year following a CBC report that U.S. outsourcing firm iGate used temporary foreign worker visas as it worked to replace a few dozen staff at the bank’s Toronto investor services division.
The bank’s chief executive later apologized to employees said it would offer them jobs elsewhere in the bank.
“Our government will not tolerate any abuse of the temporary foreign worker program. Our message to employers is clear and unequivocal - Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs,” said Alexandra Fortier, spokeswoman for Canada’s employment minister, Jason Kenney.
Canada blacklisted three Victoria McDonald’s locations in early April after investigations related to the CBC report, suspending their ability to employ temporary foreign workers. Four non-related restaurants in eastern Canada were also blacklisted. (Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, Meredith Mazzilli and Mohammad Zargham)