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Updated: Mon, 28 Apr 2014 01:49:41 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Foreign worker program pause leaves Calgary restaurant short-staffed



Amine Kanai, the manager at Globefish, says the Calgayr restaurant will have to start closing one day per week because of worker shortages. CBC

Amine Kanai, the manager at Globefish, says the Calgayr restaurant will have to start closing one day per week because of worker shortages. CBC

The suspension of the federal foreign workers program is leaving some Calgary restaurants struggling with a labour shortage.

In Alberta, the hungry oil and gas industry has consumed much of the local labour pools and the shortage of workers is particularly affecting the restaurant industry. At one popular Calgary sushi restaurant, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program moratorium could mean big trouble for managers grappling with the high turnover prevalent among local workers.

"Throughout three locations, 30 per cent of our workers are foreign workers and we depend on them quite a bit," said Amane Kanai, manager at Globefish. "I do hire people [locally] but then they get another job, an office job, in the oil field — it's big in Alberta."

In light of the program suspension, Globefish says it will have to begin closing one day per week to make up for a lack of staff.

Several potential employees from Japan were set to move to Canada to work for the restaurant but now, Kanai says they are in limbo.

"That's a lot of big trouble for us."

This isn't the first time Alberta's food services sector has felt a labour drought.

The province and the Conference Board of Canada have both called for action on the shortage and in 2006, warned the problem was likely to continue over the next 20 years despite high numbers of migrant workers attracted by the booming resource economy.

Within the last decade, employers have been offering wages above minimum wage to try and attract committed workers.

Some, like Globefish, had to start shutting down on certain days.

And while many may be panicking over what the program suspension means for their business, Calgary Conservative MP Joan Crockatt says people should stay calm.

"This isn't a permanent measure," she said. "It's a temporary measure so we can rejig and make corrections as needed."

Criticism 'bullshit,' says McDonalds Canada CEO

The decision to suspend the Temporary Foreign Workers Program came on Thursday following a government investigation of allegations raised during a series of CBC News investigations.

In a written statement announcing the suspension, Employment Minister Jason Kenney said "serious concerns" remain following the government's' investigation.

CBC's Go Public team produced a series of stories about how some McDonald's franchisees were allegedly abusing the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

The CEO of McDonald's Canadian operations, John Betts, called the recent criticism of its use of foreign workers "bullshit" during a private conference call provided to CBC earlier in the week.

"This story has been brewing for a lot of years. And you know at the end of the day we just happen to be the business that got tapped into it and we weren’t the first. Obviously, RBC was," said Betts, referring to a previous CBC Go Public story.

He also accused the CBC of being unfair and unbalanced in its reporting of the story, but CBC's director of journalism standards and practices, David Studer, said "CBC News stands by its stories."

The moratorium will remain in place until Kenney's department completes its review.

Correction : An earlier version of this story stated McDonald’s CEO John Betts called the allegations “bullshit” during a private conference call provided to CBC earlier in the week. The story has been updated to reflect that Betts called the recent criticism of its use of temporary foreign workers “bullshit.”(Apr 28, 2014 1:42 AM)

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