P.E.I. fish processors scrambling to find workers

Mike Carson newsroom@journalpioneer.com
Published on July 4, 2014
Ocean Choice International in Souris is one of several Island fish processing operations which will try and make the big break this month into the lucrative California West Coast market. Guardian photo

SUMMERSIDE — Changes to the Temporary Foreign (TWF) Workers Program are not sitting well with at least one Island fish processor.

David Dalton, co-owner of South Shore Seafood Ltd. in Rosebank, has his doubts about the program changes.

“It’s definitely going to affect us for next year,” Dalton said. “I don’t really know what the effects are going to be for this year, if we’re going to have to eliminate part of our staff or not.

“All I got was new rules were coming into effect immediately . . . it’s definitely going to affect us next year if our industry is not put into the same category as Agriculture Canada and get some exceptions or, if we can boost up local prospects for recruits for employees.”

The changes announced include the complete exclusion from the program of the hotel, restaurant and retail sectors in regions considered to have “high unemployment” — defined as six per cent or above. This applies to the vast majority of the Atlantic region.

The non-refundable fee to apply for a TFW has also gone from $275 to $1,000 per position, and employers will need to provide more detailed documentation about their recruitment efforts for local workers.

“We have jobs available but we’re getting ready to shut down for a couple of weeks,” Dalton said.

“Hopefully, everybody is here when we go back to work. We’ll probably be looking for a few more employees once we start up again.”

For 2014, the federal regulations allow a processor to have 30 per cent of its staff comprised of temporary foreign workers. That drops to 20 per cent next year and to 10 per cent in 2016.

“If something doesn’t change, obviously 30 per cent, this year, 20 per cent in 2015 and 10 per cent in 2016 — to have 100 workers, I’d have to have 90 locals in 2016,” Dalton said.

“I probably have 60 local workers here and that’s the most that I’ve had in the last number of years. With wanting to have 100 to 120 people working here, I’m going to have to have 100 locals and only have 15 or 20 from the Philippines. It’s not going to be easy.”

Dalton said a letter to the editor suggested that instead of having one long shift for worker that the time be divided, and two shifts be created.

“At the end of the day, if we can’t find enough people to fill one shift how are we going to get enough people to create two shifts?” he asked.

“Then all of our employees will be complaining that they’re not getting enough hours so they can draw decent unemployment benefits when they’re not working in the wintertime.”

Dalton said the lobster dictates that it be processed immediately.

“It’s not like a conveyor belt where you can turn it off on Friday and go back and turn it on on Monday,” he said.

“You’ve got a live crustacean and if you don’t process it when it’s there it will be dead when you come back Monday morning.”

Egmont MP Gail Shea could not be reached for comment but her office did issue the following statement:

“These changes are aimed at ensuring that Islanders get first crack on available jobs. Running businesses with hundreds of temporary foreign workers while there are unemployed Canadians that are willing to work in the same area is problematic. Islanders and Canadians recognize that.

“We are taking a reasonable approach by giving businesses a period of transition of three years. We expect during that time that they will work harder to try to hire people locally. That might involve a mix of raising wages, improved working conditions and more active recruitment measures.

“The Temporary Foreign Worker Program will continue to be there as a last and limited resort, but it is not a business model that our government supports. Our government is proud to stand up for Island families by giving them access to well-paying jobs.”