Mexican fish-plant workers want more hours, stay home in protest

A group of temporary foreign workers at a fish plant near Souris, P.E.I., say they're staying home from work in protest over lack of hours.

Contract offers no guarantee of hours for plant workers at North Lake Fisheries

The temporary foreign workers say their six-month contract runs May through October. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Temporary foreign workers at a fish plant near Souris, P.E.I., say they're staying away from the job this week in protest over what they say is a lack of hours of work.

The group of about 35 Mexicans is employed on a six-month contract at North Lake Fisheries in the community of Eastern Kings.

This week, some of them declined to work, and were staying in their temporary residence at the former Colville Manor in Souris, according to one worker who speaks English.

CBC agreed not to name the worker, as he fears he might encounter problems seeking future work in Canada.

Expecting 55 hours/week: worker

Speaking on the group's behalf, he said they thought they'd be working about 55 hours a week at North Lake Fisheries. It's not clear why they had that expectation.

He said some weeks they've worked 30 to 40 hours and that this week and last, only eight of the 35 workers were called to the plant.

This week, he said, workers told management at the plant that they want to go home to Mexico if there isn't more work for all of them.

He said the company has now begun to send some of them home to Mexico, the cost for which is paid by the company, according to their contract.

No guarantee of work week

Staff at North Lake Fisheries said they do not have anyone available this week to speak to CBC News about this issue.

According to a contract shown to the CBC by the spokesperson for the workers, the workers are not guaranteed a number of hours of work at the plant.

The contract, between the plant and a worker, set the rate of pay at $13.30 an hour plus four per cent vacation pay.

It also stipulates that if the workers work more than 55 hours in a week they would get paid time-and-a-half. They're guaranteed one day off — Sunday — each week. 

It also stipulates the employer will pay for the workers' round-trip travel from Mexico to P.E.I.

No violation of Employment Standards Act

The P.E.I. Department of Workforce and Advanced Learning said there is no mandatory minimum of hours that workers must be employed, so there is no violation of the Employment Standards Act.

The worker who spoke to CBC News said it's important for him and his co-workers to work as many hours as possible while in Canada.

Some of them hope to return to Canada in the future, perhaps with a different employer, according to the worker.

Josh Bueckert, a senior media relations spokesman with Employment and Social Development Canada, said in an email that from January to June 2017, there were 84 positive labour market impact assessments issued by the TFW Program, adding that represents a total of 718 positions in P.E.I.

Of those positive LMIAs, 15 were issued for 429 positions in fish and seafood processing.