New Brunswick

Seafood coalition seeks temporary foreign worker exemption

Seafood processors and fishermen's associations from across the Maritimes have formed a coalition to lobby the federal government over temporary foreign worker program restrictions.

Industry will suffer under new rules, should be exempt like agricultural industry, group says

Lobster processing in the region could drop by as much as 25 per cent this year and lead to quotas for fishermen if the industry can't find enough employees, due to changes to the temporary foreign worker program, says a member of the newly-formed Maritime Seafood Coalition.

Nat Richard, of Westmorland Fisheries, says lobster processing is labour intensive and without enough workers, processing capacity could drop by up to 25 per cent. (CBC)
Nat Richard, of Westmorland Fisheries in Cap-Pelé, says nearly half of the employees at his plant are usually temporary foreign workers.

But under the new rules, they can't make up more than one-third of his staff this year, 20 per cent next year and 10 per cent in 2017.

Richard said the industry has been fighting labour shortages for years and the changes will make the situation worse.

That's why seafood processors and fishermen's associations from across the region have formed the coalition to lobby the federal government.

The coalition would like fish plants to be given the same exemption as the agricultural industry.

But Minister of Employment and Social Development Pierre Poilievre contends seafood industry employers will continue to have access to temporary foreign workers under the reforms — "provided they can demonstrate that no qualified Canadians were available."

"The seafood industry should employ hard working Canadians first," Poilievre said in an emailed statement.

"The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is intended as a last resort when employers are facing short-term skills and labour shortages, and only when qualified Canadians are not available," he said.

Richard says companies in his organization are always "actively" and "diligently" looking for local people to hire.

"The bottom line is we don't manage the EI program. You know, if there's as many people out there as the federal government seems to suggest, we'd be happy to get names."

Hiring local is their preference, he said, adding they are not bringing in foreign workers because they are cheaper. 

"They're paid exactly the same rates as Canadians. It's very costly in terms of processing — $1,000 per application, we have to fly these people in here … insurance coverage — we don't do this because it's cheap," said Richard.

"We do it because we are desperate for more workers and that's been really a lifeline for the industry over the last five years."

If the industry can't get enough workers, it won't be able to handle the same volume, said Richard.

"There's some suggestions that it could mean as many 20 or 25 per cent reduction in [lobster] processing capacity in the area," he said.

"So that's a real concern. It may be that it will lead to quotas in some cases in daily catch limits. It's not something we like to do, the fishermen don't like to hear that, but that's something we have to be prepared to deal with."


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