St. Albert McDonald's owner fighting against TFW changes

A St. Albert McDonald's franchise owner says changes to the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program could force him to cut the hours his outlets are open.

In Alberta, nearly one in four McDonald's employees are part of TFW program

Rob Chiasson owns four McDonald's franchises in St. Albert. He says changes to the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program have left him struggling to run his business. (CBC)

A St. Albert McDonald's franchise owner says changes to the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program could force him to cut the hours his outlets are open.

The federal government has spent the last few months on the defensive after the program came under intense scrutiny following a series of stories by CBC Go Public's team that outlined alleged abuses of the program by several employers, including three McDonald's franchises in Victoria​.

In June, the federal government put a limit on how many temporary foreign workers companies can hire the limit will now be 10 per cent and barred employers from hiring TFWs where local unemployment is already high.

Rob Chiasson, who owns four McDonald's restaurants in St. Albert, appeared before the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday to ask for its support as he fights the proposed changes to the TFW program.

Chiasson, who purchased his first McDonald’s in 2011, said the new limitations have left him desperate for workers. If the changes go ahead as planned, Chiasson said he will have to reduce the hours his franchises are open.

"I take exception to the government removing the only solution to the shortage of labour,” he said, noting the problem extends beyond the food industry.

“This is not a wage issue, this is a labour issue,” said Chiasson.

“I would assert by this time next year, if we don't see some alternate solution which is what I'm asking for we're going to start to see significant gaps,” he said.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says he has no sympathy for claims like Chiasson's, which exploit foreign labour at the cost of local workers. (CBC)
However, the president of Alberta’s Federation of Labour, disagrees, saying the changes to the
TFW program are long overdue.

“I have absolutely no sympathy for people like Mr. Chiasson who, for the past five or six years, have used temporary foreign workers to displace Canadians and drive down wages,” he said.

“Essentially, what they’ve been doing is using this program to defy the economic laws of gravity. We have a hot labour market here in Alberta, and in a hot labour market employers are supposed to pay more to attract workers. They’ve essentially been using this program to ignore those economic rules.”

New policy limits number of temporary foreign workers allowed

A spokesman for McDonald’s Canada said the chain was aware of Chiasson’s efforts to challenge the TFW changes.

John Gibson said less than four per cent of the restaurant’s 85,000 workers Canada-wide are TFWs; however, that number rises to 23.7 per cent in Alberta.

At Chiasson’s restaurants, about 35 per cent of workers are part of the program.

McDonald's first came under scrutiny in April 2014 when three franchises in Victoria were accused of favouring temporary foreign workers over local hires. (CBC)
This means he is no longer able to hire any additional temporary foreign workers, which he says puts him in an impossible situation given the acute shortage of labour he says exists in the province.

Again, McGowan disagrees.

“They can’t say there is a labour shortage until they’ve actually tested the market by offering higher wages. That hasn’t happened yet,” he said.

“If he really wants to fill these positions … he should increase wages.”

Canada's Employment Minister, Jason Kenney, has remained a firm advocate for the updated TFW policies, saying that claims the reduced TFW program will damage Alberta’s economy are ridiculous.

However, Kyle Fawcett, Alberta Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, said while there are some positive changes to the program, on the whole the new measures are a "bad economic policy" for Alberta.