Deer Island residents employed at a local shellfish plant earn $2.50 an hour less than workers brought in under the federal temporary foreign workers program, a shellfish worker complained Friday.
"It's causing quite a bit of controversy in the industry where I work," Darrell Tidd, a labourer at the Paturel International shellfish packaging and transportation plant, said in an interview with Information Morning Saint John.
"I don't think it's fair to the local employees that are here to be making $2.50 an hour less than a temporary foreign worker coming in."
The starting wage for local employees is $11.75 an hour, but foreign workers are earning $14.17 an hour, he said.
The temporary workers program dictates that participants be paid the "median wage" of an employment zone, which in this case covers Deer Island and St. Stephen as well as Saint John.
Tidd said Deer Island residents have long faced trouble finding fair wages, yet he's been told the shellfish plant needs the foreign workers because of a labour shortage.
"I don't buy that," he said, suggesting that the plant has had trouble retaining workers, not finding enough of them.
A flawed program
Karen Ludwig, the member of Parliament for New Brunswick Southwest, said the federal program is under review because of past difficulties.
"We know under the previous government there were serious flaws in the program," Ludwig said.
"If I could, I would remove us from that employment zone." - Karen Ludwig
She said one of the major issues is that the program lumps Deer Island and St. Stephen into the same employment zone as Saint John when calculating a median wage.
"If you're looking at the average wage in Saint John, it's higher than the average wage in Charlotte County," she said. "If I could, I would remove us from that employment zone."
While Ludwig said it was within the company's rights to keep the pay for local people below that of temporary foreign workers, it should look to hire local people first when given the opportunity.
"That would be a conversation to have with an individual company," she said. "I will say regarding the program itself, it has a number of flaws we are trying to rectify, and always, always the first consideration for a hire has to be given to a local hire."
Tidd also objected to a Paturel International job listing on the Career Beacon website that says shellfish labourers have a starting wage of $14.17, which is not the case.
"If you're indeed a local and you go in there, you're not going to be offered that $14.17 an hour," he said. "The starting wage is $11.75."
Tidd said his concerns are about the federal program, not about the workers themselves.
"They're very hard workers," he said. "It's fairness in my mind and nothing but. I think it's about time something's been done about it."
Paturel International did not respond to a request for comment from CBC New Brunswick.