The CEO of McDonald's Canada has branded recent criticism of its use of temporary foreign workers "bull****" in a conference call to franchisees that was given to the CBC.
His remarks from earlier this week came before federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney announced an immediate moratorium on the food services sector’s access to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program late on Thursday, as a result of CBC Go Public's inquiries.
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 or more hours.
A federal investigation into McDonald’s use of the temporary foreign worker program was launched recently, after a Go Public story about a Victoria McDonald’s franchise.
Tuesday's conference call was scheduled to address franchisees' concerns that McDonald's Canada had decided to put its temporary foreign worker program on hold, while a third party conducts an audit on its use of the plan.
McDonald's initiated that independent audit in response to the government investigation.
In a recording of the call given to the CBC, McDonald's Canada CEO John Betts discusses recent CBC stories on the company's use of temporary foreign workers and his resulting meeting with federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney.
"This has been an attack on our brand. This has been an attack on our system. This is an attack on our people. It’s bull**** OK! I used those words when I described my conversation with the minister last week. He gets it."
Betts says he was "incredibly impressed" with the minister, adding, "He really knows his stuff. And I’ll say he knows his stuff from a business person’s perspective."
Responding sarcastically to how his company has been portrayed in the media, Betts said, "The fact of the matter is we are a big bad company, corporate, you know, bad company and these poor maligned employees are who they are."
"Yes, they are disenfranchised. Some of them don’t work for us anymore. But in the scheme of things, it doesn’t matter."
"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.
"The reality is that we have learned internally that we haven’t done a very good job in a lot more places than we thought and that’s just us on the phone talking."
Franchisees fear losing staff
One franchisee in Alberta expressed concern about employees — temporary foreign workers — who won't be able to get their work permits renewed.
"When that happens, every single foreign worker in Alberta is going to leave us. They are scared. The restaurants are going to fall apart. This is how it is on the ground," said the franchisee.
Another franchisee was worried about money he had just paid to Actyl, one of the international recruitment agencies McDonald's pays up to $2,000 for every worker they bring in.
"I paid Actyl Group probably $14,000. So am I out the $14,000 now and the whole nine yards?" asked the franchisee.
The restaurant chain's vice-president of human resources Len Jillard, also taking part in the conference call, is heard replying, "Believe me, we are doing everything we can to get everything back on the rails."
Later on, Betts comments "This is a big one for us and it is critical because of our brand image and because of your need to make profits and our systems need to take care of our people."
'Element of truth'
Betts spends much of the conference call railing against the CBC's coverage of the controversy — but admits there is truth to the stories.
"Here’s the kicker. The kicker is there’s an element of truth in each of these stories," Betts said.
McDonald's Canada CEO calls foreign worker controversy 'bull****'