05/15/2014 06:24 EDT | Updated 07/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Fix Temporary Foreign Worker Program, Weyburn waitresses say

The two former longtime waitresses at a Saskatchewan family-owned restaurant who say they lost their jobs to foreign workers told the House of Commons finance committee that Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program needs to be fixed.

Sandy Nelson and Shaunna Jennison-Yung, who were invited to Parliament Hill by the NDP, called on the government to amend the program to include stiffer fines and penalties for employers who abuse it.

"We sit before you today as proof the TFW program is broken," Nelson said in her opening statement to the committee.

The two want the government to take a closer look at employers who submit false Labour Market Opinions. 

LMOs are a process by which employers demonstrate there are no Canadians to take available jobs. Since 2002, the federal government has allowed companies to hire temporary foreign workers for jobs they can't fill with Canadians. 

In an interview with CBC News, Jennison-Yung said their main point is that there are abuses to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for both Canadians and foreign workers that need to be addressed. 

"We're hoping today we can talk to the right people and hopefully get some answers. Not only that, but let's fix this problem," she said.

Nelson and Jennison-Yung were both waitresses at Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza in Weyburn, Sask., until March 29, when they were dismissed and replaced with temporary foreign workers, they said. 

'Blatant abuse of federal guidelines'

In her testimony, Nelson weaved in elements of her experience as she outlined her concerns about the TFW program.

Nelson asked if Service Canada was notified in the case of her former employer discharging all employees save for a select few.

"Were new LMO contracts supplied for and were [records of employment] issued?" she asked.

"This to us is a blatant abuse of the federal guidelines." 

Nelson also noted that temporary foreign workers​ are hired for very specific jobs.

"Is it not against the rules to have someone hired as a waitress/server to then work in housekeeping while the restaurant was under construction, without a change to the contract?" she asked, referring to what she witnessed in Saskatchewan.

Lack of information for Canadians

Nelson also raised the issue of foreign workers hired as housekeepers being asked "to do chores such as yard work and cleaning" at the boss's house.

"This is paramount to slavery, and as contract workers, they simply oblige," she said.

As she continued, Nelson lamented the lack of information readily available to Canadians regarding "reverse discrimination they may be experiencing in their workplaces." She called on the government to provide "more than a telephone number" for Canadians to report abuses.

"We believe reasons more people don't speak up include not knowing what their rights are, no one to actually handle complaints and having others turn it into a racist issue," she said. 

Nelson said they received a letter from the office of Employment and Social Development Minister Kenney regarding the issue, but owing to privacy issues, they were not informed of what the minister's office found.

"It has been quoted time and time again the government will not tolerate employers [hiring temporary foreign workers] when Canadian workers are available and willing to do the same jobs," she said in her statement.

"Yet here we are."