Recent changes to Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program could be devastating to the provincial economy, says the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association.

Last Friday, the federal government announced radical changes to the system, including allowing only 10 per cent of employees at a workplace to be temporary foreign workers.

Dennis King

Seafood processors have attempted to attract local workers, says Dennis King, executive director P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association (CBC)

The 12 seafood processors on P.E.I. have about 1,600 positions, about a third of which are filled by temporary foreign workers, says Dennis King, executive director of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association.

Agriculture exempt

Limiting the number of temporary foreign workers will have a huge impact on some of the processors, he says.

"At very worst, this is probably going to make it impossible for them to operate, particularly in the lobster sector, and at very best it's going to impact the amount of lobster we process and how we do that," said King. "

"And that is going to impact the amount of lobsters that are purchased."

King says he knows P.E.I. has a high unemployment rate and the seafood processors have tried to attract local workers.

But nothing has worked, says King.

He says he's been speaking with other seafood processors in the region and they plan to approach the federal government about excluding the fisheries industry from the changes, similar to how the agricultural industry is exempt.

'Low-skill jobs difficult to fill'

Meanwhile, Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce president Quentin Bevan says the changes to the program are drastic and have essentially shut down the program for P.E.I.

"Well it's going to be difficult for a lot of our members of our chamber to fill their labour requirements. What the federal government needs to recognize is that not all regions in the country are the same," said Bevan.

"You know, we have a seasonal economy here and even in high unemployment areas, which the federal government has defined as above six per cent, which we would fall into. I mean, low-skill jobs are difficult to fill and a lot of employers were using the temporary foreign worker program to fill them."

Bevan says the chamber has written federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea to outline its concerns and is asking for a meeting with government officials.

At the bare minimum, there needs to be a transition period for Island businesses to adjust to the changes, says Bevan.

For mobile device users: Should seafood processors be exempt from the recent federal temporary foreign worker program changes?