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Worried there could be boat quotas, tie-ups if processing plants could not find enough workers
TIGNISH – The president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association is encouraged by recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
The changes “will help bring new workers,” said Craig Avery, whose organization lobbied the federal government to cut the seafood processing industry some slack.
“It’s a perishable product, and you only have a few hours after it gets to the wharf to have it processed. You need people there to look after it,” said Avery.
He said his industry was concerned there could be boat quotas or even tie-ups if processing plants could not find enough workers to process all the lobsters landed.
The change involves the number of days plants can bring in foreign workers. It is being extended to 180 days from 120.
Francis Morrissey, manager of Tignish Fishermen’s Co-op Royal Star Foods, said his plant has applied for 20 foreign workers under the 180-day program. That’s on top of the 30 foreign workers he hopes to obtain through the system already in place. His plant is permitted a foreign worker number equal to 10 per cent of its total workforce.
The number of foreign workers, Morrissey said, will barely make up for the 38 longtime employees who have retired.
“It’s better than nothing,” he added of the change to 180 days. “We’ll get through the spring and summer season.”
He said the 180 days will likely expire before the plant completes its fall production.
The general manager of Acadian Supreme, Jeff Malloy, does not expect his plant, the former Acadian Fishermen’s Co-op in Abram-Village, to benefit from the change.
It’s a perishable product, and you only have a few hours after it gets to the wharf to have it processed. You need people there to look after it Craig Avery, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association
“Overall, it’s not a solution,” Malloy said.
He said his plant never used the 120-day program because it was too expensive to bring foreign workers in for that period of time, including the transportation each way and the application cost. He agrees 180 days is more practical, but still not long enough when workers are needed from late April to the middle of December.
Malloy said his plant has applied for around two dozen foreign workers through the regular process, which allows them to stay for the full production period or longer.
Even with those foreign workers, Malloy is doubtful the plant will reach its employment target.
The plant, in recent years, had 170 to 175 workers, but Malloy said they could handle 220 to 225.
The plant posts job notices year-round, but Malloy said most workers wait until April to apply.
“We’ve been short 40 to 50 people now forever, so everybody sort of knows, especially the ones who work here, there’s going to be a job available for them,” he said.
“Do we support local workers? One hundred per cent, but we still can’t run the facility without this extra help,” Morrissey said.
He said the Island’s unemployment rate is not what it is made out to be, especially with farming, construction and road jobs all ramping up at the same time of year as fish plants open their doors.