Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney has announced an immediate moratorium on the fast-food industry's access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The suspension, announced late Thursday afternoon, came shortly after the CBC told Kenney the CEO of McDonald's Canada had branded recent criticism of its use of temporary foreign workers "bullshit" in a conference call to franchisees.  

A recording of that call was given to the CBC.

In a written statement announcing the suspension, Kenney says "serious concerns" remain following a government investigation of the allegations raised about the program.

The CBC's Go Public has produced a series of stories reporting how some franchisees at McDonald's were allegedly abusing the program.

Jason Kenney

Employment Minister Jason Kenney issued a statement Thursday saying he was issuing an immediate moratorium on the food services sector's access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. (CBC)

Kenney says the government investigated and suspended Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) that allowed a few employers to hire temporary foreign workers. And he says the employers were also placed on a public blacklist.

"Despite these actions, there remain serious concerns regarding the use of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in the food services sector," Kenney says.

"As a result, I am announcing an immediate moratorium on the food services sector's access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Accordingly, ESDC will not process any new or pending LMO applications related to the food services sector. In addition, any unfilled positions tied to a previously approved LMO will be suspended.

Kenney issues warning

The employment minister is also issuing a warning that program violations could be subject to criminal sanctions.

"Abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program will not be tolerated," the statement says.

"Allegations of misuse will continue to be investigated...and those employers who are found to have lied about their efforts to hire Canadians could face potential criminal prosecution with sanctions that include fines and jail time."

A study by the C.D. Howe Institute found the program has increased the unemployment rate by nearly four per cent in British Columbia and Alberta, two provinces which have employed more temporary foreign workers than the rest of the country combined, in every year since 2007.

Kenney says the moratorium will remain in effect until his department completes its review.

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With files from the CBC's Kathy Tomlinson