The Newfoundland and Labrador government will spend $5.5 million to help fish plant workers qualify for employment insurance this year.

Plant workers logged fewer hours, and in some cases weren't hired at all, because of the declining shellfish resource and heavy ice conditions that delayed the start of the fishery.

"It's important as we plan for our fishery in the future that there are people to participate in the fishery of the future. That is my preoccupation," said Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources Gerry Byrne.

"In these important days, we need to be able to respond to the realities facing communities today, and that includes … plant workers … we need to ensure that they have the ability to make a living, to be able to meet the needs of today, but are also part of the fishery of tomorrow."

Short-term job creation

The money will be administered by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment to create short-term jobs.

Details on how the money will be spent and who will qualify for help will be determined through discussions with processing companies, towns and plant workers.

When asked how this money will yield tangible results and not just be "make-work projects," Byrne said the money will support employment projects that will add value to communities.

"There will always be a certain level of criticism or cynicism. It has been [that] way for a number of years that whenever you provide employment and supports," he said.

"The fact is, is that these employment programs do support significant, valuable community-based projects that assist the economy of the region … the quality of life in communities and the economic capacity of communities to be able to generate new jobs and new opportunities."

Gerry Byrne

Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources Gerry Byrne says the investment will generate "tens of millions of dollars in the future." (Gary Moore/CBC)

In addition to bettering the community, Byrne said government has a responsibility to be compassionate.

"They're a group of people [who] through no fault of their own have faced an economic circumstance, an employment circumstance, which is putting their own livelihood, their own ability to make a living, the ability of their community to be prosperous in jeopardy," Byrne said.

"Our government is a compassionate government. And we've responded in a very prudent, a very sensible way to provide a reasonable amount of funding to assist those in need … and if we can do that by an investment today of $5.5 million to look at the generation of tens of millions of dollars in the future, I'm proud to stand behind that investment."

Federal money helps harvesters

In June, the federal government announced $5 million to help iced-in fish harvesters, but, according to the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) plant workers were left out of that financial aid.

"We have recognized that that E.I. top-up program for harvesters does not meet the needs of plant workers," Byrne said.

"So that's why the Ball government … we are stepping up with $5.5 million in additional supports to be able to make sure that our plant workers are not left behind."

With files from Gary Moore