P.E.I. companies hiring foreign workers while Islanders collect EI: Kenney

Teresa Wright
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Federal employment minister releases data showing for every month in 2013, hundreds of fish-processing workers were on EI

Seafood processors in Prince Edward Island have been using temporary foreign workers while an abundant supply of local fish plant labourers collect EI, according to new data released by Employment Minister Jason Kenney’s office.

The information was compiled as part of an ongoing project, requested by the provinces, to collect more detailed statistics in the wake of Ottawa’s unpopular overhaul of the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program. Statistics for P.E.I. were provided to The Guardian by an official in Kenney’s office.

RELATED: Employment Minister Jason Kenney on EI and TFW

This new data shows that in every month of the year 2013, hundreds of Islanders who identified as ‘fish plant workers’ and ‘labourers in fish processing’ were collecting employment insurance.

Meanwhile, between 50 and 245 foreign workers were brought to P.E.I. to work in seafood processing plants.

“For whatever reason we have more folks who have been laid off from fish processing plants on the Island than positions being filled by TFWs in every month of the year,” Kenney said an interview with The Guardian Thursday.

“This is clear evidence of a mismatch.”

Further data shows the majority of P.E.I. fish plant workers collecting EI benefits were under the age of 45.

Kenney says this dispels concerns raised by officials in the provincial government and industry that most of the Island workers available for employment in these plants are too old for hard labour.

The employment minister was reacting to comments made earlier this week by an official with the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association who said losing TFWs could reduce lobster processing in the Maritimes by as much as 25 per cent.

Kenney said Thursday the industry has become too dependent on the overseas labour. Employers likely prefer foreign workers because they make for more agreeable employees, he said. He compared their positions in these worksites as “a kind of quasi-indentured status.”

“Their immigration status is conditional on their work, so often those folks that come in, the managers know they’re going to show up every day for work so there’s a greater degree of reliability,” Kenney said. “In many respects, employers have begun to see it as a more efficient workforce, but that is not what it’s there for.”

But Dennis King, spokesperson for the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association, said Kenney’s data does not take into account the geography of the Island when looking at available local workers.

“The numbers presented by Jason Kenney are province-wide, where the association’s (figures) focused specifically on Kings County where the need for temporary foreign workers is greatest,” King said in an email to The Guardian.

“The loss of 200 temporary foreign workers in these Kings County plants during peak processing periods would create significant challenges finding workers, with only 350 EI recipients in total to potentially draw from.”

King added his belief that the federal department’s figures do not distinguish between those EI recipients with open claims versus those without, but an official with Kenney’s office confirmed their data does exclude those with open claims.

Kenney spoke at length about his wish to dispel the “misconceptions and anecdotes that dominate the debate” around his controversial TFW program reforms.

He further added his belief that prolonged use of foreign workers in certain industries across the country have created a wage distortion.

He pointed specifically to the seafood-processing sector in Atlantic Canada and the restaurant sector in Alberta.

“I have absolutely no doubt that wages would have gone up more steeply and investment in automation would have happened more quickly had it not been for access to folks from abroad at the prevailing wage rate.”

He said his government has been frustrated demand for overseas workers has been growing in areas with high unemployment, such as P.E.I. That’s why, despite calls for exceptions to be made for the seafood processing industry, the TFW program changes will go ahead as planned, Kenney said.

In the meantime, the department will work to ‘nudge’ unemployed Islanders collecting EI with jobs that have, up until now, been filled by overseas workers.

“The program will continue to be there as a last and limited resort, but it cannot and it will no longer be a business model,” Kenney said.

Statistics Canada data shows the unemployment rate in P.E.I. has hovered around 11 per cent since 2005, which equates to between 8,000 and 9,600 Islanders without jobs every year.

Meanwhile, the number of temporary foreign workers being sought by P.E.I. companies has more than quadrupled in the last decade. Prince Edward Island has the highest rate of growth of temporary foreign workers in Atlantic Canada.

Organizations: The Guardian, P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association, Statistics Canada

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Ottawa, Kings Atlantic Canada Alberta

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Recent comments

  • me
    September 22, 2014 - 11:53

    It is because Islanders want to be on EI and wouldn't take the work the immigrants do, been that way forever

  • Homegrown
    September 19, 2014 - 14:29

    Kenney now condems users of the program, after his government allowed it to balloon into a 'business plan'. He suddenly has loads of data that supports his new position, after years of producing 'data' that supported the program. Kenny himself stood up and told us how the data supported the expansion of the program, many times. Then, we found out that his data was mined from Kijiji. This program became the 'way to go', fully sanctioned and supported by this government. Now, leading into an election year, they reverse their position. Do they really think the Canadian public so stupid?

  • Cake
    September 19, 2014 - 13:45

    They should lay off some of the lazy people working for the gov/DVA and put them in the fish plants :) They don't have birthday cake at the plants every friday tho..just sayin

  • aaron
    September 19, 2014 - 13:44

    What about the 1000's of people on welfare ? Why aren't they put to work ? No one should get money for doing nothing. If governments would top up the salaries of low wage earners rather than lining the pockets of the multimillion dollar companies that hire them , our economy would be in much better shape. People can't spend what they don't have. And just imagine , if the economy got a boost and there were more jobs , we could get people off welfare. But wait , why work for a living when everything is handed to them ? This has got to stop as tax payers cannot continue funding this free ride . We're broke. Beyond broke. Just saying . If people had to work for a living , the crime rate would take a dip too.

  • Kenny
    September 19, 2014 - 12:41

    It is good someone is finally seeing the facts on this abuse of EI. Tignish is too far to travel to Murray Harbour but China isn't. Get real and go to work.

    • @ Kenny
      September 19, 2014 - 14:45

      Kenny, as much as I agree with you, here is something to consider: I have always been decently employed. But... I used to drive 1 hour, one-way to work, and it cost me more than 1 paycheque per month in gas, and that's not considering wear and tear on my vehicle, challenges getting here with our stormy bad weather, physical exhaustion from commuting (I was hospitalized), to name a few challenges. It did not leave me enough to live on. I lost my home. I would have had higher take home pay on welfare.

  • don
    September 19, 2014 - 10:57

    Dennis. so you are a talker for the slave masters who wants slave to obey or else be sent back home? and less PROFIT and less time down south while islander get no work. the day will come when you will be in the same boat. and i hope you all can get work with the tfw in there country.

  • TWO ARGUMENTS TO EVERYTHING
    September 19, 2014 - 10:50

    I agree that there are a lot of people on EI who feel it is their right to sit at home after working the minimum time required, I also know of businesses that lay people off even though someone else is hired to fill that position jsu so both can get EI. The other side is the plant owners who do not want to pay decent wages or benefits to keep the local people working. They have become so dependent on Government getting them cheap labour that they will no longer even consider that facts that many people are available but who can work for wages they cannot survive on?

    • Garth Staples
      September 19, 2014 - 15:06

      Right on!

  • sickofit
    September 19, 2014 - 10:40

    I am 43 years old and started full time work at the age of 16 ,I have only spent one month total on EI , I think what the fish plants are saying is that local " LAZY" people are not dependable and forign workers take full advantage of the oppertunity to work and make a honest living , It seems the fishing industry on PEI is all cut from the same cloth and its a embarassment . If you are on EI that means your are out of work and willing to work ,But to this indusrty it really means i have enough weeks in so i am done working for the season and i will collect EI until it runs out , I think they should be made to work if you are offered a job and you dont take it well your benifits are cut off unless there is some rare occurance where you just cant do the type of work they want you to do , its pretty bad when you look at the big picture , a person can come into this province and speak little to no english learn as they go and are dependable and non confrintational and want to work compared to seasonal workers who think its there god given right to mooch off the full time workers that actually have some bit of work ethics and drive .

  • tony
    September 19, 2014 - 10:12

    Mr. kenney (the think tank) Do you think that people on e.i., in tignish,( when there is no work), should take a job in murray river ,when there is work , over 200 klm away .You must of been talking to gail. P.S. maybe Mr. kenney would like to try it , Standing on a cement floor for 12-14 hrs a day for $10.00 an hr.

    • Garth Staples
      September 19, 2014 - 15:08

      Perhaps there are boarding facilities provided by the company? Just saying.

  • George
    September 19, 2014 - 09:44

    If that many people are on EI that means they have worked worked somewhere to quaify for benifits. I believe Kenny has over laped figures. All fish plant workers are laid off as it is a seasonal job.During this time foriegn workers are sent home. It also appears he may be including TFWs working on farms ie. potatoes.

  • Took our Jobs!!!
    September 19, 2014 - 09:18

    They Took Our Jobs!!!!

  • PGP
    September 19, 2014 - 09:12

    Thank you Mr. Kenny . The facts are there and the "workers" are here - Imagine having to drive a few hours to go to work .. Some people just dont want to work and want to live off of EI ... Cut them off and make them work!

  • Wow..
    September 19, 2014 - 08:28

    Yes, there are jobs available but only those that pay $10.20 an hour. If, after working 40 hours, you take home roughly $340, then I would like to ask how are all the bills going to get paid? With the astronomical price of food, gas, oil, rent, and electricity, it is a wonderful that anyone lives on this Island at all...oh yes, I guess I forgot the highly paid, spoiled government workers and top EI-drawing EI fishermen that have time to come on here and criticize everyone else.

  • Fact's
    September 19, 2014 - 08:02

    Isn't this just what most working Islanders have been complaining about . I guess it gives credence to the truth that Islanders just don't want to work . It is totally wrong when the full time workers have to pay the EI for the number of lazy Islanders sitting home drawing EI . Maybe Kenney can finally get Islanders to support themselves . I personally support these moves by the Fed's in trying to stop the ABUSE of this EI system that is really required in a lot of cases .

  • Fed up
    September 19, 2014 - 07:40

    Like someone commented to the a Guardian...."If our government catered to our OWN people...provide rentals, transportation to work, guarantee a full 40 hours (whether we work it or NOT, no less), there would be no problem finding local workers. My question is Why did our unemployment rate climb if we don't have people ready to work? NO JOBS...that's why! All taken up by temporary foreign workers! What will it take to make Ghiz smarten up and look after his own people? Same with Our Healthcare! Driving doctors AWAY from here, not bringing them in!!

    • Quiet Observer
      September 19, 2014 - 08:43

      Not up to government to provide those things. Up to employers. By making it harder to get TFW, maybe employers will try a little harder to recruit employees bu offering them decent wages and good working conditions.

  • patrick
    September 19, 2014 - 07:17

    funny the residents can still collect EI . Still too many think its a god given right to sit on their ass and collect EI. People aren't hungry enough, let them go hungry for a bit, they will gladly go to work. Younger generation thinks it below them to have to work for a living.

  • Bob MacDonald
    September 19, 2014 - 07:15

    This is just wrong in so many ways and shows just how disconnected the rich are from the rest of us and the people around them.

  • why not fishing EI ?
    September 19, 2014 - 06:30

    That chart only shows regular EI benefits and not the thousands of fishing benefit claims right around the same villages as the bloody fish plants. Why are fishing benefits considered such an entitlement that they don't even appear in stats . Fishing EI has just become welfare for fishermen .

  • sammy
    September 19, 2014 - 06:23

    It is time to get those fishermen (and family / friend who 'work' for them) doing something else other than waiting for the next season to roll around and all that time collecting max EI. If you want to fix the imbalance then start here.