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Foreign workers on hold

McDonald's Canada says temporary foreign workers are a necessary ingredient in the fast-food chain's business model, but until the company satisfies itself and Canadians it doesn't abuse the federal jobs initiative, its use of the program is on hold.

Stung by recent criticism of its use of temporary foreign workers, McDonald's senior vice-president of human resources Len Jillard said Wednesday the firm needs to suspend the program while an audit by a third party determines if there have been violations or abuse of workers -- foreign or Canadian.

"The reason why we're doing that is we want to communicate to everyone we're taking this very seriously," Jillard said in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press. "We're taking a pause. We're making sure that we've got everything in order, which I'm convinced we have."

Jillard said McDonald's has already informed the federal government about its plans, including federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney.

"We've had a couple conversations directly with Minister Kenney in terms of the approach we've taken," he said.

Jillard said McDonald's is voluntarily suspending its use of federal Labour Market Opinion applications for all of its Canadian restaurants for the hiring of temporary foreign workers. The LMO process is designed to ensure there are no Canadian workers available before a company receives permission to hire foreign workers.

Three McDonald's franchises in Victoria and a pizza restaurant in Weyburn, Sask., are at the centre of program abuse allegations involving Canadian employees alleging foreign workers were given priority work status and in some cases took their jobs.

McDonald's is in the process of taking full ownership of the three Victoria franchises from the Victoria operator who previously held an 80 per cent share in the three outlets.

Shortly after the Victoria restaurants were singled out by the federal government for breaking the rules, B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair called on the company to stop using the program and asked the government to eliminate the use of the temporary workers for entry-level jobs.

"If McDonald's does not take action to achieve these solutions, the B.C. Federation of Labour will consider further actions, including but not limited to, calling for a boycott of McDonald's," read the letter Sinclair sent to McDonald's CEO John Betts.

Jillard said McDonald's continues to support hiring temporary foreign workers to alleviate labour shortages in some markets, especially in small-town, but booming Western Canada.

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