Better jobs, not foreign workers, are the answer to labour shortages at fish plants in the province, according to the head of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers.

Reacting to the news that the federal government has lifted restrictions on temporary foreign workers for seasonal employers, FFAW president Keith Sullivan told CBC Radio's The Broadcast that a local solution is the better way forward.

Sullivan said any labour shortage would be solved if the plants offered higher wages and created a better workplace.

"People in our communities are looking for work, it's important that they have a healthy work environment," Sullivan said. "I do still think there's enough people in our province looking for those decent jobs to fill that demand."

Last month, the federal government quietly lifted the limits on foreign workers in seasonal industries like the fishery.

'People in our communities are looking for work.' - Keith Sullivan, FFAW president

Originally, foreign workers were to be capped at 10 per cent of a company's workforce. 

In 2016, there won't be any limits, although plants will still have to prove that they tried to hire locally.


Last year, plants in Newfoundland and Labrador hired 40 foreign workers, compared to 270 in PEI.

Last year, 40 temporary foreign workers worked at fish plants in Newfoundland and Labrador, compared to 270 in P.E.I.

Sullivan says it makes more sense to invest in local workers. 

"It doesn't necessarily make sense to bring someone halfway across the world, have them just in a community for a while, and ship them out," he says. 

"That skill and learning that happens in the first year is not retained. So it's not an ideal situation, I think, for anybody."

Processors lobbied for change

Restrictions on temporary foreign worker hiring were lifted last month following lobbying from the Maritime Seafood Coalition.

Dennis King, the director of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association, said the workers are only ever used in his province to support plant operations in busy times.

"There's never been any worker in Prince Edward Island at our seafood process plant facilities that has been displaced by a temporary foreign worker," he said.

The exception is only in effect for 2016, and the federal government is also pledging to deal with the underlying issues.

Sullivan says as groundfish populations return, there will be more opportunities to create jobs that last longer into the year.

"I think there will be opportunities to make these jobs better, and I think that should be main focus for people in Newfoundland and Labrador."

With files from Jade Adey