Seafood processors, fishermen unite in opposing temporary foreign workers changes

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Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley, left, shakes hands with P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association executive director Dennis King, centre, and P.E.I., Fishermen’s Association executive director Ian MacPherson at a news conference in Charlottetown Friday.

The P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association and the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association have united in calling for a reversal of Ottawa’s sweeping reforms of the temporary foreign worker program — reforms they say will have a devastating impact on the Island’s seafood industry.

Dennis King, executive director of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association, says a growing number of challenges have made it difficult to find enough workers in P.E.I. to work in fish plants.

“The processing sector on P.E.I. operates during our peak employment period,” King said.

“Finding local workers in communities where populations are declining, outmigration is prevalent and workers are aging is a serious, ongoing challenge.”

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

But in some lobster processing plants in P.E.I., upwards of 50 per cent of their employees are migrant workers.

Without access to temporary foreign workers, King says some processing facilities are in grave jeopardy of closing.

This will put hundreds of Islanders out of work.

“The policy to put Islanders to work by reducing the access to temporary foreign workers will have the reverse effect with plant closures,” King warned.

Lobster fishers have also expressed grave concern about the potential reduction of processing capacity on the Island as a result of potential loss of migrant workers.

This spring, a shortage of temporary foreign workers led to quotas being imposed on lobster fishermen during the Island’s limited spring fishing season.

“As primary food producers in Canada it is critical that our product can be processed in an efficient and timely manner,” said Mike McGeoghegan, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association.

“The challenges of this past spring have been a lost economic opportunity for P.E.I. and Canada.”

The two associations issued their rare joint statement on the eve of the federal-provincial meeting of labour ministers in Charlottetown Friday. The TFW program reforms were debated during the meeting.

Several other provinces raised similar concerns about the changes.

P.E.I. seafood processors are currently undertaking a preliminary labour market review. Processors are also participating in ongoing discussions with processors in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia who are expressing similar concerns about the chronic labour shortage facing the industry.

“No one can argue with the spirit of a policy that wants to put Canadian workers first,” King said. “However, this is an industry that is worth more than $300 million annually to our province. We need to be certain that the workers are indeed there, either through the local labour force or a foreign worker program that meets the needs of the P.E.I. fishing industry.”

On Friday, P.E.I. Innovation Minister Allen Roach relayed these concerns to federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney.

He asked Kenney to look at the evidence that supports the need for the changes in P.E.I., and Kenney agreed.

But he did not mince words in his feelings over the growing use of this program in provinces like P.E.I. with ongoing high levels of unemployment.

“Let’s just put it this way,” Kenney told reporters in Charlottetown Friday.

“I would hope that any part of Canada with double-digit unemployment through much of the year, that we can get Canadians to take those available jobs as opposed to bringing people in from abroad.”

Organizations: P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association

Geographic location: P.E.I. Fishermen, Iceland, Ottawa Canada Charlottetown New Brunswick Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • Dave
    July 15, 2014 - 23:19

    While it is true that this is peak season for employment on PEI, there were also 7800 Islanders on EI last month and another 2000 unemployed not on EI. Bluntly, if any PEI industry qualifies for an exception to the rule, then what industry west of Ontario should not also qualify? Would they all not have just a legitimate a claim as seafood processors? If anything, do they not have a more legitimate claim.

  • RON
    July 15, 2014 - 22:04

    there lots of people on pei for all the jobs but all you want is cheap workers when you get foreign workers you won't hire island

  • taken for fools
    July 15, 2014 - 20:31

    Who do they think they are, fishers have the biggest trucks, southern vacations and great EI, the plant owners....well, remember polar, they get millions but plant workers ...they have to settle for long hours, poor working conditions and very low pay. And now they are teaming up to lobby for people from another country to be their slaves because islanders are not going to take it any longer, if this wasn't sickening it may be funny.

  • august
    July 15, 2014 - 18:21

    As I said, kick the wives off the boats and let them work in the plants, the EI will come either way, and the fish gets processed.

    • or reverse
      July 15, 2014 - 23:41

      Or have the women as captains and put the men ashore cracking shells.

  • voter
    July 15, 2014 - 17:14

    this is not the first time they practiced to deceive but you can see the tangled webs in their words !!! the power is with the money men - they'get their slave foreign labour just like the fast food barons did---

  • The Insider
    July 15, 2014 - 16:36

    Packers and fishermen are used to working together to milk the EI system and the income tax system .TFW will be no different. Packers even save scallop catch and put them on paper in different weeks so the fishermen can draw fishing EI in the offset weeks . I have seem this with my own eyes . The DFO and CRA almost let the abuse happen by not inspecting landed catch so they never know the actual lobster or scallops landed per boat . The tax free cash sales of lobster and scallops is rampant on PEI at least .

  • L Nick
    July 15, 2014 - 15:10

    Just read an article that states pei fish plant workers receive after 1 month training $17-$25 an hour plus bonuses...BS....if you need workers there are workers down here on the south shore in districts 33 and 34 whose season is over and we are Canadian.btw..give us the jobs..bring us in we will work and work hard ....we are used to 12-18 hour days at 13-15$ an hour and wage depends on if you are male or female......mind you we need to live off that and room and board should be included in the wage....we will help ya'all out just gotta pay decent keep cdn jobs in canada

  • PAY THE WAGES
    July 15, 2014 - 14:50

    Either pay liveable wages or get all the fishermen and their families that are drawing EI right now into the fish plants. As Fred says if they can catch them they can process them. It's an embarrassment when you say there are no workers yet these people are coming off the boats and applying for EI. It's all a scam to get cheap labour and Ronny is all smiles and chuckles over it.

  • Former Plant Worker
    July 15, 2014 - 14:29

    Let them close the plants then!! If all the money is going off island anyway then we may as well keep the fish until someone in the market can afford to pay good wages and has a plan to keep people working longer than 10 weeks. It's easy. Don't support an industry that runs away with the profit!!

  • fred
    July 15, 2014 - 10:22

    Food for thought; Is there any reason, the fall fishers and their helpers can;t work in the processing plants in the spring and vice versa in the fall and work all of the off season / Like rite now ? How are they allowed to draw e.i. when there are lobsters to process. If they are smart enough to catch them ; they should be smart enough to process them !After all you are required to travel up to 100 k.l.m. a day to get to work .Get them off of e.i. and get them in the plants .

  • bob from cardigan
    July 15, 2014 - 09:41

    pay a living wage, then islanders will work for your $300 million industry. kenny dont stop short calling us out. call out the crime of underpaying labour on pei by these rich crooks wanting forign workers to work for nothing.