Two former employees of a southern B.C. hotel chain are happy the government is taking steps to clean up problems with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program they say have existed for years.

Sharon Lang, who lives near Nelson, says she worked as a housekeeper at the Prestige Hotel six years ago.

But when two housekeepers from Mexico were brought in, work for some locals dried up.

Lang says after she and her supervisor complained, neither of them worked at the Prestige again.

"The foreign workers were given 40 hours a week, which nobody else had," she says. "Partly because I complained and my supervisor complained, I was off the list, which means there was no work for me."

Lang went to B.C.'s Employment Standards Branch and eventually got $767 in severance, while the Prestige was fined $500.

But Lang said that was little satisfaction for losing her job and she is glad that all these years later the entire program is under review.

"I think it's B.S. These companies say they can't find employees and yet people who worked there were displaced by these Temporary Foreign Workers. I think it probably happens more often than not."

Lang also went to her MP Alex Atamanenko who confirmed he worked on behalf of constituents complaining about the Prestige and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program long before it made national headlines.  

Last week the federal government suspended the program for fast food restaurants after a CBC investigation found it was being used by McDonald's to replace local staff in Victoria. But the program remains in effect for other industries.

Langs' supervisor Barb Saprikan also says she was punished for going to management about the foreign workers.

"After I complained, I went for a meeting, and I met with him [the manager] and that's when he told me my wages would be cut by $4 per hour," she said.

Saprikan also left the Prestige and also went to B.C.'s Employment Standards Branch.

"It wasn't fair to me. It wasn't fair to my staff," she said.

Hotel says program necessary

Terry Schneider, the president of the Prestige Hotel, group defends the Temporary Foreign Worker Program when it's used ethically.

He says it has been a necessity in his business and he has always used it responsibly.

Schneider says at times it's impossible to find workers for the hotel industry especially in rural locations.

"It's not a convenience for hotels, says Schneider. "It has for us been an absolute necessity in several of our locations."

Schneider says there's a lot of paperwork, fees and the cost of flying in foreign works and they wouldn't do it unless it was necessary.

It's expensive and why in the world would a solid business owner be willing to spend money to bring in workers? "

Schneider says they are audited regularly and are dedicated to the ethical treatment of all workers.

With files from Bob Keating