Companies could collapse without foreign workers: recruiter

Local businesses operators have been struggling to find local workers, saying they've been forced to turn to firms that specialize in bringing in foreign or out-of-province workers.

Local businesses struggle to find local interest, turn to out-of-province or foreign workers

The Quinlan Brothers plant in Bay de Verde hired about 20 workers from Thailand to complement the local workforce. (CBC )

The founder of a company that helps find workers for businesses struggling to recruit employees thinks new changes to federal policy surrounding foreign workers could pose a threat to local industry.

Paul Shelley, the founder of Work Global Canada, a new company that specializes in filling labour needs in specialized industries, said provincial statistics show that there simply aren't enough people in the local work force.

"For the next eight, nine years in Newfoundland and Labrador, our demographics shows that some 10,000 [workers] per year will retire from our system," Shelley said.

Paul Shelley runs Work Global Canada. (Courtesy Work Global Canada) (Courtesy Work Global Canada)

"When you couple that with the fact of mega-projects coming out of stream, like Muskrat Falls, Hebron, Long Harbour, and so on, it's simple mathematics — we will not have the number of people to facilitate and move those projects forward," he added.

According to Shelley, the new regulations being introduced at the federal level will make it more difficult for local operators to bring in temporary workers, and some may even be forced to shut down business.

"What's going to happen, I think, the end result when we go through this long process, there will be companies who will be in crisis situations [who] will actually shut down or not expand because they don't have the workers," Shelley said.

No local interest

Last spring, one of the province's biggest fish companies — the Quinlan Brothers — had to bring in 20 people from Thailand to fill jobs at a fish plant in Bay de Verde.

Owners of a fish plant in Hickman's Harbour said they were having a difficult time finding local workers, despite the high unemployment rate in their area.

Edgar and Mottie Simmons, owners of Golden Shell Fisheries on Random Island, said they were trying to find 15 employees to process crab, but couldn't generate any local interest.

After trying to find local options, they said they were forced to explore other options.

Erika Pardy, a senior sales consultant with Work Global Canada, said she regularly hears from fish plant operators in the province who are desperate to find workers.

"I received a phone call from a very desperate group of individuals saying, 'Oh wow, if I don't get this number of people here, then this crab is going to go bad, we're not going to be able to process it, we're going to have to dump it in the ocean,'" Pardy said, referring to Golden Shell Fisheries.

"Luckily they haven't had to do that, but they did have to put their boats on hold."

Work Global Canada first seeks local solutions, but if they are unable to fill the empty positions with locals, they turn toward out-of-province solutions, and eventually look for foreign workers.

Pardy said the firm was able to find 15 employees from New Brunswick. Otherwise, they would have had to have found workers from foreign countries, such as Thailand, to fill the positions.

Foreign workers in N.L.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, there are currently 2,500 temporary foreign workers in Newfoundland and Labrador - almost twice as many from 2008.

Less than 500 of those workers are located in the St. John's area.

Shelley said these statistics would shock most of the people in the province.

"If you had to tell me five years ago we needed workers for Newfoundland and Labrador, I would have laughed at it," Shelley said.

"It's just a reality check. It's something that's new, it's a novelty almost, but there's a reality of statistics our demographics show us to be the oldest aging population in the country," he added.

Shelley said a lot of the problem with the new regulations will be an increase of bureaucracy, which will deter people from seeking foreign workers, and therefore put some companies in jeopardy.

Existing stereotypes

Pardy said there are still many misconceptions people have about foreign workers in Canada.

She was recently in a smaller community talking about her job and what the company does, and said the response surprised her.

"One individual was taken aback by the fact that, 'Oh my goodness, you're the one bringing in these foreign workers,'" Pardy said.

"She was under the impression that Newfoundland companies were able to fire their current workers and bring in foreign workers for cheaper, and I was very surprised — very, very surprised — that that is out there still," Pardy added.

She said that having foreign workers in the province will help increase the salary rate of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Pardy also said these foreign workers are not making less money than Canadian employees in the same company.

"When you see people working in Tim Horton's, do not think for a moment that they're getting underpaid or they're there because we chose them over the local option," she said.

Shelley said because this is a new and unfamiliar territory for the province, people are still trying to figure out the need for foreign workers.

However, he expects the numbers of temporary foreign workers to grow in the province in the coming years.