Restauranteurs not impressed with foreign worker pause

Originally from the Philippines, Irene Ocampo works the cash register at City Convenience in Meadow Lake.

Originally from the Philippines, Irene Ocampo (left) works the cash register at City Convenience in Meadow Lake.

by Derek Cornet

A halt to the temporary foreign worker program in the food service sector could have implications for Meadow Lake businesses.

Before Dennis Catapang arrived in the community almost three years ago, KFC manager Mona Arnold said she would come to work early to do her job in case she had to cover the duties of her employees.

“People apply, but you never know if they’re going to show up,” Arnold said. “Up until I had foreign workers, I didn’t know if I’d had a cook that day or not.”

Arnold knew she had to take action after the restaurant’s staff dwindled to five and they had to work 16 double shifts in a row. Catapang, who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines and worked for McDonald’s in Alberta for two years, was one of the first foreign workers to join Arnold’s staff. She said the program has enabled the business to continue to operate as normal. Currently, half the staff at KFC arrived in Canada through the foreign worker program.

Catapang decided to move to Saskatchewan after his contract with McDonald’s expired because of the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program, which allows faster access to permanent residency.

“I just want to work and look out for the future of my daughter,” he said. “I’m working with people who are friendly to me and there’s so much opportunity in Canada.”

Irene Ocampo also arrived in Meadow Lake through the program three years ago and is currently employed at City Convenience. While she was born in the Philippines, Ocampo moved to Canada from the United Kingdom.
Ocampo’s husband manages the Waterhen General Store and they also have a 10-year-old son who now feels at home here. She said they discussed moving back to the U.K. due to recent criticism of the foreign worker program, but added her family wants to settle and they’ve found good employers.

“It’s not right to cancel the program and it’s not because I’m a foreigner,” she said. “My employers are working hard to build a business and they really struggle to get people to work for them.”

Currently, a third of the people owner Yvonne Von Grad employs at City Convenience and her other Subway locations were obtained through the program. Von Grad said she always attempts to hire locally first, noting she hired a local person two weeks ago only to have him call in on the first day to say he was no longer interested.

“Canadian workers who want to work are already working,” she said. “The rest of them are out there and I believe they don’t want a job. Why punish all the businesses because a couple people are abusing the program?”

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