Canada's employment minister says changes to temporary foreign worker legislation will not be reversed or delayed after complaints by New Brunswick fish plant owners.

Pierre Poilievre says the solution to the shortage of workers that fish plant owners are concerned about is very simple, "hire unemployed New Brunswickers."

In an interview Monday on Information Morning Moncton, Poilievre said his figures show that in 2013 there were 33,000 New Brunswickers collecting employment insurance, and 2,100 of them had experience working in fish processing plants.

"They are looking for work officially … the employers sought 1,600 temporary foreign workers in the seafood processing industry and there are 2,100 former seafood industry workers on EI even in peak season," he said.

Jerry Amirault of the Lobster Processors Association of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia says unless plants can find workers, seafood may have to be sent offshore for processing.

Meanwhile the owner of a fish processing plant in Petit Cap, Janice Ryan, says she may have to close unless she can find enough workers.

Poilievre says Amirault and Ryan have to "continue to try harder," when it comes to attracting local workers and that may mean paying a higher wage.

"Let me be blunt, employers do have to raise wages if they can't attract enough employees. That's the free market, that's how it works."

"We're not going to allow the temporary foreign worker program to suppress wages for New Brunswickers," he said.

fish plant workers

The Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says if the EI system was reformed, and employers offered a living wage, there would be no need for temporary foreign workers. (CBC)

Poilievre also blamed the New Brunswick government for falling short on its responsibilities of training and connecting employment insurance recipients with work.

"We provide training dollars under the EI program to the province for that purpose. They should be reaching out, using those training dollars to prepare former fish plant workers to go back into jobs for which they have experience."

"We do send regular e-mail alerts to EI claimants to inform them of jobs available in their skill set, in their communities, so they are aware that these jobs exist and it's just a matter of the employers hiring them."

Poilievre also warned that fish plant owners must advertise the full range of the hourly wage on the job bank in order to attract as many local workers as possible.

Amirault says most fish processing plants pay between $11 and $13.75 per hour in southeastern New Brunswick. Ryan says she pays up to $17 an hour for experienced workers.