McDonald’s Canada went on an all-out attack against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Friday, accusing the broadcaster of playing loose with the facts after it aired audio of McDonald's CEO John Betts calling the country's temporary foreign worker program controversy “bullshit.”
Canada's temporary foreign worker program was originally meant to fill labor shortages in Alberta's oil patch and in home care for the elderly. But in recent years, employers from McDonald's to major banks have started bringing in foreign workers.
Since then, there have been reports that Canadians have been fired to make way for foreign workers. Foreign workers technically have to be paid the "prevailing wage" that Canadians make in the same job, but critics say the program is halting wage gains and driving up the unemployment rate.
In a recording of a conference call with franchisees, obtained by the CBC, Betts calls the heated debate over temporary foreign workers “an attack on our brand. This has been an attack on our system. This is an attack on our people. It’s bullshit, OK!”
Betts went on to praise Employment Minister Jason Kenney, saying the minister “really knows his stuff. And I’ll say he knows his stuff from a business person’s perspective."
McDonald’s Canada responded to the news report with a press release saying it is “deeply disappointed by the reckless disregard of the facts and absence of basic fairness” in the CBC’s reporting.
“The CBC has continually misrepresented our employees and ignored its responsibility to provide objective and balanced reporting to the public. Throughout, we have cooperated with the CBC ... but the CBC has repeatedly omitted facts and pertinent information provided by McDonald's.”
The press release did not specify any particular facts omitted by the CBC.
The CBC has been at the forefront of coverage of the temporary foreign worker program, breaking the news earlier this month of alleged foreign worker rule violations at three McDonald’s franchises in B.C. The network interviewed foreign workers who compared working at McDonald’s under the program to “slavery.”
In the wake of the reports, Kenney launched a review of the foreign worker program and on Thursday announced a suspension of foreign workers in the restaurant industry.
The minister’s move came shortly after a report from the C.D. Howe Institute that argued the temporary foreign worker program has driven up the unemployment rate in Alberta and British Columbia.
McDonald’s itself suspended the hiring of further foreign workers this week, and launched an independent audit of its use of the program.
“From the very outset, McDonald's Canada has acted swiftly and forcefully to investigate and address any and all allegations. We do not tolerate any misuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, any breach of employment standards or any infractions of any kind against our employees,” the company said.
According to the audio recording obtained by the CBC, some McDonald’s franchisees are concerned that they will be unable to staff their restaurants without the foreign worker program.
If foreign workers can’t get their permits renewed, “every single foreign worker in Alberta is going to leave us,” a franchisee said. “They are scared. The restaurants are going to fall apart. This is how it is on the ground."