Claims by two former long-time waitresses that they were replaced by temporary foreign workers has ignited a storm of controversy, and the federal minister of Employment is investigating the restaurant about the claim. The reaction has been widespread including the establishment of a protest page on Facebook that has attracted comments from throughout the country.
Sandy Nelson, a 28-year employee and night supervisor, and Shaunna Jennison-Yung, a 14-year employee who was the day shift supervisor, were both let go from the Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza, formerly the El Rancho Restaurant.
George Siourounis, who along with brothers Harry and John own and operate the Brothers restaurant, said there are two sides to the story, and insisted they followed the proper program guidelines.
The department for Employment minister Jason Kenney has been asked to investigate the restaurant for their action. Jennison-Yung said when contacted on Monday they filed a complaint with Kenney's office on Apr. 7, and after receiving no response from them, the two women decided to go public to the national media about their story.
She added they've also complained to Immigration, and also sat down with MLA Dustin Duncan, and he told them he would look into their concerns.
According to Nelson, a staff meeting was called on March 4 where they were informed there would be a change in operations, and that she would be getting a letter outlining the reason, and the temporary foreign workers were to get a different letter. Her letter spelled out that due to the change in operations, all of the employees were being dismissed, but she found out later that some of the temporary foreign workers were rehired.
"I read the letter, and I was in shock. I had no questions at the time; after this many years as an employee, you're not expecting this as something they have to do. I thought this is not going to be a problem," said Nelson, noting she then worked out her last two weeks of employment.
The first change in her position came in January; her normal shift was from 4 p.m. to closing, but then her shift was shortened by an hour a day to 5 p.m. until closing.
"When I asked why, I was told the restaurant wasn't busy enough to have two people on at 4, and the temporary foreign worker needed her 40 hours, so she was given the 4-to-closing shift," said Nelson.
She was offered possible part-time hours working at banquets, but she said they know she would rather have her full-time position.
Jennison-Yung said when she received her letter, she went to one of her employers and demanded to know what was going on.
"I had a confrontation with one of my bosses and I ended up quitting. He basically told me I should go work somewhere else. Sandy was dismissed, and she worked out her last two weeks and was told to go on unemployment, and maybe in the future she might get some hours," said Jennison-Yung. "I got into trouble with them when I questioned one of the bosses, 'what was going on? Who's going to be working my position?'"
She added both she and Sandy were longtime employees who were both told "we would always have a job there, we were family, and they couldn't run the place without us. It was such a ridiculous situation, they were changing their business hours."
She said she understood under the Temporary Foreign Worker program, they could only fill a position that could not be filled by a Canadian worker.
"They get 40 hours and they're still employed, and we're not," said Jennison-Yung. "The only Canadians working there now are part-time; the only full-time positions are filled by foreign workers."
When asked about these allegations, Siourounis said, "Before we proceeded, we consulted with the Labour Department, and the Labour Department said we were within our rights to do this."
Adding that "there are two sides of the story", Siourounis said the media has only chosen to present the side of the two former employees; due to privacy issues, the brothers feel they cannot comment on their claims.
In regard to the federal program, Siourounis commented, "If that program wasn't existent, 95 per cent of the businesses in Weyburn in the service industry would have to have less hours, and there would be way less businesses in Weyburn. If you go to any business in Weyburn, especially in the service industry, you'll see who is working, and it's not Canadians."
According to information from the federal government, "the Government of Canada is committed to reforming the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to ensure that Canadians are given the first chance at available jobs."
In order to qualify for the program, an employer has to advertise their vacant positions, and if no qualified Canadian worker is available, then temporary foreign workers may be used.
The reforms to the program include "increasing the length and reach of advertising required by employers to ensure no Canadians are available before can turn to foreign workers." Further, employers have to pay a $275 fee for the Labour Market Opinion, which determines there are no Canadians available for a given position or positions.
"Canadians must always have first chance at job opportunities when they become available," states the government's criteria.
Some of the changes the government has pledged to make to the program include that employers are required to pay temporary foreign workers "the prevailing wage" by removing the existing wage flexibility; the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion is suspended immediately; the government will seek to increase the government's authority to suspend and revoke work permits and Labour Market Opinions if the program is being misused; there will be questions added to the employer LMO application to ensure the program is not being used to outsource Canadian jobs; and ensure that employers who rely on temporary foreign workers have a plan in place to transition to a Canadian workforce.
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