05/27/2014 02:36 EDT | Updated 07/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Ottawa should end temporary foreign worker moratorium, restaurateurs say

CHARLOTTETOWN - A lobby group for Canadian restaurants is calling on the federal government to immediately end the moratorium on temporary foreign workers in their industry.

About two dozen restaurant owners who are members of Restaurants Canada made the call Tuesday during a meeting in Charlottetown.

Restaurants Canada CEO Garth Whyte says the moratorium _ in place almost a month _ has created a labour shortage in the industry. The moratorium bans restaurants from hiring temporary foreign workers.

"This is a major, No. 1 crisis," Whyte told a news conference in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

"It's having a negative impact not only on business owners but on their employees and on their customers.... We need the government to act now."

The group is requesting an emergency meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It says it also wants the rules governing the temporary foreign workers program to be strengthened to ensure there's no abuse.

Restaurants Canada is a national association with 30,000 members in every segment of the food service industry.

Both Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Harper are back on the hot seat this week on the temporary foreign worker program following a weeklong break for MPs.

On Tuesday, they fended off opposition attacks in the House of Commons, arguing that the government was intent on fixing the much-maligned program and ensuring Canadians get first crack at available jobs.