OTTAWA — The foodservice sector may be facing serious labour shortages, but, in a rare move, the federal government has suspended the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program.

Jason Kenney, the federal employment minister, announced the immediate moratorium on the foodservice industry’s access to the program, which includes halting the processing of Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) and suspending any unfilled positions tied to previously approved LMOs. This decision comes as select McDonald’s franchisees and a handful of other restaurants are at the centre of investigations relating to abuse of the program.

“Abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program will not be tolerated,” Kenney said. “Allegations of misuse will continue to be investigated and any employer found to have violated the rules will face serious consequences. 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.”

Restaurants Canada released a statement warning of the negative consequences for the majority of businesses in compliance of the program. “In areas of the country with severe labour shortages, the TFW program is vital, allowing restaurants to remain in business and to continue to provide jobs for their Canadian employees,” it reads. According to the restaurant association, nearly two per cent of the industry’s employees are sourced through the TFW program.

Leaders from the hotel sector, which is home to thousands of foodservice workers, have also expressed disappointment at Kenney’s decision. “The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is important to the hotel industry and has been used successfully at a number of properties across Canada to meet labour challenges,” said Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC). “It is important to note that the industry uses the program according to legislated requirements and that any deviation should receive full force of sanctions. The HAC welcomes and encourages government intervention with the objective of ensuring vacant jobs are filled.”

The moratorium will remain in effect until a review of the TFW program is completed.

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