Temporary foreign worker changes will have serious effect on P.E.I.

Teresa Wright
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FILE PHOTO - Adolfo Cortes sorts through a tableload of strawberry plants in the Westech Agriculture warehouse in Alberton.

Ottawa’s sweeping changes to the temporary foreign worker program will have serious impacts on P.E.I.’s seafood industry – impacts that could see some fish plants close, says the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association.

Fish processing plants are the principal users of the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program in Prince Edward Island. This year approximately 400 workers were brought in from other countries to fill vacancies that could not be filled locally. 

Dennis King, executive director of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association, says the changes announced Friday in Ottawa will make it even more challenging to access workers, which could have devastating impacts not only on the plants themselves, but on the province’s whole lobster industry

“There’s a chronic labour shortage facing our sector, and the temporary foreign worker program has been one of the avenues used to try to Band-Aid this, or lessen the impacts of this labour shortage,” King said.

“At worst being reduced to 10 per cent of temporary foreign workers in the workforce might close some lobster plants, at best it’s going to drastically impact the way we process and the amount we process.”

One of the many changes to the TFW program announced Friday is a cap that will be placed on the number of low-wage temporary foreign workers an employer can hire at each worksite.

This cap will only allow only 30 per cent of a worksite’s employees to be temporary foreign workers starting immediately, dropping to 20 per cent next year and 10 per cent by July 2016.

Currently, some lobster processing plants in P.E.I. have a TFW workforce of 50 to 60 per cent.

Having to drop to 10 per cent with a new quadrupling of fees will have serious implications for those plants, King said.

The industry is already reeling from delays this year in getting temporary foreign workers to the Island.

Currently there are close to 400 vacancies in fish plants across the Island. This has led to quotas being imposed on some lobster boats during this, the peak season for the fishery.

But Kenney said during a news conference in Ottawa Friday employers with more than 50 per cent of their workforce made up of TFWs are relying on them too heavily.

“That is what I would call a business model, that is not the purpose of the program,” Kenney said.

“The purpose of the program is to be a last, limited, temporary resort, not a business model. If we did not take this approach, I suspect we would see that model growing.”

In a Tweet to The Guardian, Kenney also pointed to the fact P.E.I. currently has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 11.7 per cent and that 7,300 of the current 9,700 unemployed Islanders are on employment insurance.

“They should come 1st (sic) for available jobs,” Kenney wrote in his Twitter message.

But Innovation Minister Allen Roach says Kenney simply is not looking at the unique and challenging employment situation in P.E.I.

Seafood plants workers must work 10- to 16-hour days, standing in a production line, six days a week.

Young, able-bodied workers in P.E.I. who can shoulder this kind of labour are going west for higher paying jobs, Roach said.

“Prince Edward Island simply cannot compete with the wages that are provided in the oil industry in Alberta,” he said.

“If you’re an able-bodied worker and you have the opportunity, instead of making $11- to $14-an-hour you could go out to Alberta and make upwards of $50-an-hour, what would you do?”

King said the industry has tried everything to attract locals to work in their plants, to no avail.

That’s why his members and the P.E.I. government are frustrated Ottawa is making sweeping national changes without taking into account regional workforce differences.

Both King and Roach wondered why the seafood processing industry was not exempted from all the new changes to the TWF program, as the seasonal agricultural workers are.

“I suppose it’s easy to sit in an office in Ottawa or Calgary and look at an (unemployment) number and say, ‘Oh, there should be lots of people to work,’ but we’d love to see somebody come down to North Lake and round up some workers for us, if he thinks it’s that easy,” King said.

Roach said he would be seeking further information on the changes and will provide a more in-depth response to the impacts they will have on Prince Edward Island next week.

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Ottawa, Alberta Calgary North Lake

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Recent comments

  • Observer from the East
    June 23, 2014 - 12:26

    Quit with the greed. Pay a decent, liveable wage and make shift lengths bearable. Do that and the need for TFWs will go way down. It's not rocket science

  • jrdnovotny
    June 23, 2014 - 09:24

    Its a new program not even ten years old. How did they survive without out before and for so long. Personally I think the program should be scrapped.

  • J
    June 22, 2014 - 18:35

    Folks, if you don't want low paying jobs, retrain while on EI and stop complaining about a couple months work.

    • Regular Joe
      Regular Joe
      June 23, 2014 - 08:59

      There is no retraining programs funded by EI any more . Companies no longer want to train as it's cheaper to bring in TFW s an pay less but hire more . So not real sure were your going to find the training or time to go . You can't take training when your working and you can't afford to go when your on EI as they will not pay you to go or pay for it ,so how do you suggest they get the training J . Just asking

  • J
    June 22, 2014 - 17:40

    Ann, your workday sounds like most working people who work year around.

  • Bob MacDonald
    June 22, 2014 - 17:08

    It's interesting how the Guardian focuses on fish plant workers but wouldn't dare do a story on Burger King, subway or Mcdonalds and talk to them about why they need these workers in Charlottetown. They are the reason the program is being cancelled. They might or might not print my comment but they would never in a million years do a story on why restaurants need these workers. Freedom of the press only exists for those who own one, fortunately social media is changing that.

  • AMAZED
    June 22, 2014 - 14:16

    Plants are just playing silly buggers , a backlog of fish but they refuse to work on Saturday or Sunday .I guess its easier and cheaper to limit how much fishers can land per day than to pay more in wages .

  • Sunny
    June 22, 2014 - 09:49

    You're right, Donnie. Have the plant managers ever considered splitting those long shifts in half? Twice the shifts, twice the number of persons employed. It's not rocket science. Plenty of Islanders would love to stay home, even with a lower wage. But this isn't a Thirkd World slavery program. Create bearable working conditions. Even if it's for TFW. More humanity, less greed.

    • Rocket Scientist
      June 23, 2014 - 06:20

      Apparently it is rocket science. Its a little difficult to spilt the shift in half, when they are already should workers.

  • Garth Matthews
    June 22, 2014 - 07:44

    I can't believe that these people ( The Fish Processors ) can't figure this problem out ! The answer is to provide a decent pay rate , like $15. per hour , reasonable hours, like an 8 hour day and treat these people with a little respect. You could have all kinds of unemployed people from PEI working. How about getting your heads off the bottom line and start being a good corporate citizen ! There is a huge demand for lobster all over the world so stop pretending that you are not making millions on the backs of the fisherman and the plant workers ! We're not all asleep here!

  • Ann
    June 22, 2014 - 01:07

    There was a time when working at a fish plant at least earned you a few cents more an hour than minimum wage. Now plant workers are told "we are paying you $10.40/hr" which is a lie because in reality they are being paid $10/hr plus their 4% vacation pay. There is no paid leave if you are sick, you have an appointment, there is a death in the family, etc... You are constantly being reminded to work faster, do more, or you may have to work longer days (or be fired!). There are no benefits, 10 hours of work (and sometimes more) per day, 6-7 days a week. Try finding child care that is available from 5:45am until 4:45pm 7 days a week for 8 weeks at a stretch! Even 2 parent families need childcare because you can't support a family with one salary from a fish plant. This is a job that is very physically demanding, then you get to go home and rush to prepare a decent supper meal for your family, do laundry and housework, and fit in a bit of sleep before you get up and repeat it all over again.

    • wog
      June 22, 2014 - 14:20

      Agree Ann. There is little consideration for reality nowadays. Lets also add these jobs are often far from urban centers, so add substantial gas costs to get back and forth. A bit more money might be more enticing for some and would add little to the final cost of the actual product. But jobs like this simply aren't set up to be feasible for certain segments of society, narrowing their scope of potential workers. A little consideration and flexibility on behalf of the employers may open the door for more employees.

  • Kelly
    June 21, 2014 - 21:49

    No one from the rest of Canada will ever believe there is a need for foreign workers in PEI. I worked in a processing plant in BC (salmon) and there was never a shortage of local applicants, no TFW used ever. Our unemployment rate is much lower and we are also right next to Alberta (do you really think most middle-aged women would get those $50/hour jobs anyway?) so cut out the nonsense about needing to use this program. Out of curiosity I took a look on Job Bank to see what jobs there are available and it is almost tragic to see how much you guys are getting ripped off over there. All only paying 10-11 dollar an hour lots only offering 35-40 hours/week. Processors here pay up to $16/hour with benefits and still manage to make a profit. Throw all these TFW out and see people start to actually get paid what they deserve.

  • Roach is a joke
    June 21, 2014 - 16:58

    Roach said all winter that it was EI that was causing people to go west, now he says there are jobs but people would rather go west than take the jobs that are here, which is it Minister? If this is the "braintrust" in charge of building the island economy then no wonder things are in such bad shape.

  • SERIOUS PROBLEMS IN THE FUTURE FOR PEI
    June 21, 2014 - 16:55

    There is a Company in Stratford who had 120 employees 5 years Ago Now Down to 60 Now.. Had To Lay of Contractors Also. Target Stores Are on Hard Times. All The Malls Are Empty... Seasonal Work Will Become a Thing of The Pass And People Will Just Move Away. In The Last 3 Months Flights Has Increase To Alberta. I Heard of a Dealership in Charlottetown Last Week that 9 People Hand There Keys Of There Car, Could t Make The Payments in 6 Months 57 People in PEI Turn There Car In To The Dealership.

  • reality
    June 21, 2014 - 16:37

    The Island has a very,very limited number of jobs to offer -always did --- When more "subsidized jobs" are fabricated ,the business scammers appear to reap and rape the artificial surplus-when the money's gone ,they're gone -the free money goes with them ----------- there are too many people on PEI-- you are going to be poor here unless you are politically connected or well educated with a federal gov't job just like they wisely did for the last 150 years ,many islanders will have to go away and stay away until they retire -- most will be very happy they did --they always did better than the islander who wouldn't leave--your choice

  • Garth Staples
    June 21, 2014 - 16:16

    Pay a decent wage and they will come. Then you will see EI rate drop to put PEI in 5th place as it once was instead of the current 10th place. The question remains why is the current rate @12% ---Minister?

  • Jen
    June 21, 2014 - 16:00

    No one wants, nor can afford, to sling fish guts for min wage. I understand that the individual companies can't afford to pay employees much, but the government needs to realize that the min wage vs. the cost of living here, just doesn't add up. I'm not sure if the fish plants are seasonal or not, but there needs to be some sort of job security. The island dies in the winter time, and not even people who work at Pizza Delight can keep full time hours. Something needs to be done! I've even been as desperate to apply at McDonald's and not even get an interview. Why hire me, when they could hire a foreign worker for half the cost!

  • Jen
    June 21, 2014 - 15:58

    No one wants, nor can afford, to sling fish guts for min wage. I understand that the individual companies can't afford to pay employees much, but the government needs to realize that the min wage vs. the cost of living here, just doesn't add up. I'm not sure if the fish plants are seasonal or not, but there needs to be some sort of job security. The island dies in the winter time, and not even people who work at Pizza Delight can keep full time hours. Something needs to be done! I've even been as desperate to apply at McDonald's and not even get an interview. Why hire me, when they could hire a foreign worker for half the cost!

  • former plant worker
    June 21, 2014 - 15:57

    Nobody in Alberta is getting $50. an hour for labour work. Trades people are making that in some areas. You cant compare licenced plumber and electrician wages to labourers. They will not hire Canadians and pay fair wages when they can bring 3rd world employees in for virtually nothing. They are slanting the truth to stop unions from starting in plants.

  • Slavery working in PEI
    June 21, 2014 - 15:40

    Once you work in Alberta You will never Work on the Island Again. I been in the Oil Patch for 7 Years. In Alberta you Get 4 Times The Money And Work Quarter as Hard. In PEI You get a Quarter the Money And You Work 4 Times As Hard. I Consider Working in PEI As Slavery... Honestly ! I Heard People from other Province say that PEI Is About 30 Years behind the rest of Canada.

    • UPWESTER
      June 21, 2014 - 17:17

      In the Toronto Star today, the World Bank estimates that migrant workers in Canada in 2012 sent $24 Billion, yes, that's Billions with a B to their home countries. That is money that is not being spent in Canada. Very little if any taxes are paid on this money.They do absolutely nothing for the Canadian economy, so why should we have them here. All they do is take the money earned back to the Philipenes and Mexico and other third world countries and contribute nothing to Canada.

  • Bob
    June 21, 2014 - 14:48

    Plant operators using foreign workers as a permanent business model, and locals using EI as a permanent source of income. What's wrong with this picture? But instead of fixing these insane situations, the government just whines to Ottawa that it shouldn't have to get its own act together because PEI is "special." Completely dysfunctial would be more accurate.

  • Senior Islander
    June 21, 2014 - 14:14

    I would like to see all the people who abuse the people who are on ei because they are not taking low paying jobs have to walk in the shoes of the most of those people who are offered nothing but minimum hourly wage jobs. With the cost of living today it impossible for individuals and families to work for the salaries offered. Make the minimum wage offered $15 to $18 dollars per hour. If you cannot fill the factory jobs and other comparable jobs, then I would give some credence to your arguments. The unfortunate fact is that employers are just interested in paying as little as possible and are expecting the Government to assist them in doing so. This has to end as people have run out of patience with this approach. Pay a reasonable wage, train locals and hire within the community if you want the suppost of your community at large.

    • Jackofalltrades
      June 21, 2014 - 18:54

      Minimum wage $15-$18/hr...seriously? Where do you think money is going to come from to cover that kind of wage? I have one idea where that money would be coming from and it would be from your pocket and my pocket. Groceries, clothing, and alot of other necessities are expensive enough now.

    • Dave
      June 22, 2014 - 15:42

      I m with Jack........not only will unemployment go up, but it will greatly increase the need to automate these jobs. I am 47, when I was a kid and you went in a fast food restaurant it was abuzz with activity and workers behind the counter. Today there are maybe half as many workers. raise wages $5/hr and see how many are behind the counter in 5 years.

  • Senior Islander
    June 21, 2014 - 14:13

    I would like to see all the people who abuse the people who are on ei because they are not taking low paying jobs have to walk in the shoes of the most of those people who are offered nothing but minimum hourly wage jobs. With the cost of living today it impossible for individuals and families to work for the salaries offered. Make the minimum wage offered $15 to $18 dollars per hour. If you cannot fill the factory jobs and other comparable jobs, then I would give some credence to your arguments. The unfortunate fact is that employers are just interested in paying as little as possible and are expecting the Government to assist them in doing so. This has to end as people have run out of patience with this approach. Pay a reasonable wage, train locals and hire within the community if you want the suppost of your community at large.

  • Dave
    June 21, 2014 - 12:39

    I guess the answer is simple, pay workers $15, 18, 20 /hr......it's just that simple. Meanwhile, fishermen complain about the price they receive and some have quotas. If this industry was that profitable, there would be an answer to the quotas.......or their would be competition fast. Like I said, big trouble coming.

  • Dave
    June 21, 2014 - 12:18

    "Both King and Roach wondered why the seafood processing industry was not exempted from all the new changes to the TWF program, as the seasonal agricultural workers are."......................Because we need farmers to feed the nation, for the betterment of the country. Bluntly, we don't "need" processed lobster any more than we "need" a Big Mac or a double double. That is just how it is. Clearly some involved in the industry have convinced each other of the country's "need" for their product, but it is a mistake. A mistake that may mean the end of this industry. The handwriting is on the wall now.

  • Donnie
    June 21, 2014 - 11:12

    $14.00 an hour? Maybe for a manager of the plant, lol! 6 days a week 16 hour days would be 2 shifts per day, rather than expecting people to chain themselves to the line, maybe break it into something workers are used to instead of the shift one could expect in the 1800's in an English textile factory. Supply & demand, pay the workforce what the job is worth and you'll get workers.

    • Dave
      June 21, 2014 - 15:00

      You say supply and demand, but 7300 unemployed people are home drawing an EI cheque. It's not the employers job to make it worth your time to work........it's shameful people are drawing EI while so many jobs are unfilled and people so no problem with it. The new EI rules did not come into play to "pick" on Islanders, but because this has become an Island reality. Its embarrassing.

  • The Sceptic
    June 21, 2014 - 11:06

    The owners and principles of any company that use TFW workers instead of paying Islanders fair wages are traiters to all Canadians. They accept tax breaks,government loans, grants etc etc but when it comes to letting some profits trickle down to hard working Islanders they want to start bringing in foreign workers . I say that those Lobsters belong to all of us not just the fishermen and processors .

  • SlyFox
    June 21, 2014 - 10:15

    Oh no,no TFW .Too bad King, suck it up and pay a decent wage.I wonder what Mr.King is making an hour? Would it be close to minimum wage LOL.

  • FedUp
    June 21, 2014 - 09:10

    I know of several people (including my own son) who apply for these minimum wage jobs, and get told they are NOT HIRING, yet continue to post ads in the JobBank, so that they can bring in the TFW's. It's not just fish plants, it's potato plants too. Maybe the gov't can take a poll of how many applicants are turned down for these jobs, and cut off those employers from hiring non-locals.

    • Lorna Vanderkaay
      June 21, 2014 - 12:40

      I agree suck it up fish plants start hiring locals who you refused to hire for years because you were getting cheap labour from elsewhere and big handouts from the Ghiz !!!!!!

    • Jay
      June 21, 2014 - 21:14

      I agree with "FedUP" My son also apply for these minimum wage jobs and get told they are not hiring!

    • Jay
      June 21, 2014 - 21:15

      I agree with "FedUP" My son also apply for these minimum wage jobs and get told they are not hiring!

  • darlene hustler
    June 21, 2014 - 09:00

    I know quite a few people that work in the fish plant industry and I can assure you that any of them would be more then happy to make 15 dollars per hour. They would be happy if they madeat least 12. The problem is they are just paid minimum wage and some of these workers have been there for 10 -15 or more years. instead of paying these employees higher wages employers hire foreign workers and pay the least amount wage allowed possible....

  • Fishy
    June 21, 2014 - 08:48

    If the plant owners don't want to pay fair wages, shut down the plants. Then, they won't have any wages either.

  • what now
    June 21, 2014 - 08:48

    Now comes the time when you have to decide on reasonable profit and better pay or going out of business. Local businesses would rather pay to bring workers in, pay the very lowest wage they can get away with and treat them like slaves. Times are changing and if you want to stay with the change it is time to get local workers at good wages and forget about Government getting you cheap immigrant labour.

  • Fed up
    June 21, 2014 - 08:28

    What did these Employers do BEFORE they were allowed foreign workers?!? They hired ISLANDERS!!! Hopefully this change will get the foreign workers out of fast food places so our young people can find work to help pay for their university!

    • What...
      June 22, 2014 - 07:02

      If you read the article you'd know It's not about fast food places that are hiring TFW it's the seafood plants. Anyone not from the island who has a different ethnic background are not all TFW some of these so called foreign workers in the fast food restaurants that you're referring to are people who have moved here and have either become Canadian citizens or are becoming Canadians citizens. It's not the same thing as a TFW. And they aren't stealing jobs from fast food restaurants they have just as much a right to those jobs as any other Canadian.

  • Andrew
    June 21, 2014 - 08:24

    King says his industry has tried everything to attract locals to these jobs, but I disagree. They should try offering Islanders a competitive salary and benefits package. I would stand for long hours in a cold and damp environment that stinks if I were compensated accordingly, something to the tune of $18-$20 an hour sounds about right.

  • Vernon Perry
    June 21, 2014 - 08:06

    I know quite a few people that work in this industry and I can assure you that any of them would be more then happy to make 15 dollars per hour. They would be happy if they made 11 or better yet even 12. The problem is they are just getting minimum wage and some of these workers have been there for 10 + years. Bump the wages and that will be a great help

  • I Don't Get It
    June 21, 2014 - 07:40

    Why do we have such a high unemployment rate on one hand and shortage of workers on the other?

    • Fishy
      June 21, 2014 - 08:51

      Because the PEI EI officers arn't doing their job. Anyone on EI within a 50 km radius of the plants should have their claims terminated. "Not willing to work"

    • Dave
      June 21, 2014 - 11:56

      Kenney explained in the article: "that 7,300 of the current 9,700 unemployed Islanders are on employment insurance.".......................How many moms now want to stay home with the kids all summer? How many will work under the table all summer? How many live at home and just need enough money to buy beer all summer? ........................The changes to EI, didn't go far enough.

  • Frank
    June 21, 2014 - 07:29

    Instead of having people work 10-16 hour days, why not have two 8 hour shifts? That might entice more people to work at fish plants. Or what about other benefits for working there? Obviously it's hard for employers to offer high wages but there are many other types of perks or benefits an employer can offer to try and entice workers. Also, what about bonuses for workers who stay the entire season or work a certain number of hours? These plants are going to have to be innovative if they want to attract the labour they need.

  • don
    June 21, 2014 - 06:11

    good hire islanders pay a little more and a few cents less in profits but better then going out of business. train islanders. you want cheap slaves but you still want islanders to buy your products and yet you will not hire us.

    • I Disagree With You
      June 21, 2014 - 09:40

      Islanders don't buy lobster , they can't afford to . Very few Islanders buy any amount any more unless its from the fisherman direct . I love lobster & ate them all my life(always had family fishing , retired now) but having been able to buy them until the last two years & I don't believe I'm alone . When you consider a 35-40 % yield , it's very expensive . In the last number of years , I haven't seen many rich plant operators so don't believe they are making a killing . Pay more in wages & they need to sell it at higher price , is the market there ????? The plants do pay $11-12 & will hire Islanders but the Islanders will only work until they get their stamps for EI & then leave the plant with product & no one to process it . The answer is simple - cut off the EI as long as there is job's unfilled . Actually that is what EI was first started for by the construction trades . It got screw up when the government took it & started buying votes with it . Best example is fishermen working for themselves & getting EI . It's simple VOTES-VOTES and the rest of Canadian workers are getting tired of Maritimers milking them . As Jack would say That's the view from here LOL