Nova Scotia’s food industry will need to rely on more temporary foreign workers if the system isn’t fixed soon, says the executive director of the province’s restaurant association, responding to criticism that some Canadian McDonald's restaurants favour foreign workers on their staff.

Gordon Stewart says there are 3,000 temporary foreign workers in Nova Scotia restaurants. He says the industry employs around 26,500 people in total, but there are 1,500 job vacancies in Nova Scotia alone.

“Our challenge is that’s actually going to get a lot worse. It’s bad now, but it's actually going to get a lot worse,” he said. “Every day I get calls, ‘I need someone to work in my kitchen,’ ‘I need a food cutter.’ And they are simply not there.”

Stewart says foreign workers often work in the back, bringing their specific food preparation and cooking styles to the kitchen.

He says most foreign workers come from the Philippines or China, where they have highly trained cooks.

The Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia commissioned a study two years ago to study the restaurant industry. The non-profit group mainly represents independently owned food operators.

The study broke down each position, showing anything to do with cooking is where Nova Scotia lacks skilled employees.

“Then we’ve got competition like Alberta and places like that. So if you’re graduating from a community college here are you going to start out at $13 or $14 an hour or are you going to start out at $18 or $19 an hour? That’s a given,” said Stewart.

He says bringing in foreign workers is expensive for employers and they’d often prefer to hire Nova Scotians. It’s a huge responsibility if they bring in foreign workers since they have to pay their flights and find them somewhere to live.

Training local

The Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia head says they’re trying to get more Nova Scotians working in restaurants by getting more young people into community college.

That includes more apprenticeships for students in restaurants.

“Our number of people we have to train is getting shorter and shorter,” Stewart said.

“That’s a real serious problem. That means we’ll put more pressure on new people coming in to the industry from high school or the foreign worker program.”

McDonald’s is under federal investigation over possible abuses of the Temporary Foreign Worker program at a franchise outlet in B.C.

It's not the first time the program has been in the news. Last year, the Canadian Labour Congress issued a report that said between 2008 and 2011, more new jobs created in the country went to temporary foreign workers than to Canadians.

The Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia says the province’s restaurants will serve 92 million meals this year