Nova Scotia

Why a N.S. lobster plant is building a daycare in a bid to attract workers

Riverside Lobster International in Meteghan has purchased houses, duplexes, trailers and even a motel to house its workers — nearly half of whom are from Mexico, Chile, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines. The next step is to build a daycare.

'We're short labourers big time, every day,' says spokesperson for Meteghan lobster plant

Riverside Lobster plant, which is dependent on foreign workers, provides accommodations and transportation for workers and their families. (Submitted by Frank Anderson)

A lobster plant in southwestern Nova Scotia is so desperate for workers that it's planning to build a daycare to help attract workers and accommodate their families.

Riverside Lobster International in Meteghan employs more than 300 workers — nearly half of whom are from Mexico, Chile, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

"Our labour issue is a major issue," said corporate affairs officer Frank Anderson. "We're short labourers big time, every day."

Riverside Lobster has purchased houses, duplexes, trailers — even a motel — to house its workers.

The company also uses six converted school buses to pick up workers from Digby and Yarmouth. The next step is to begin building the daycare for workers' children.

"The new world is that employers must be more involved with their employees," Anderson said. "In turn, it's sort of a cost of doing business, so we're going to be providing housing, we're going to provide daycare systems for our Canadian workers and our foreign workers coming in."

Migration out of the area and an aging population are causing a year-round labour shortage for the plant and other employers in southwestern Nova Scotia

More than 1,000 job vacancies in southern Nova Scotia

Atlantic Canada's labour force is shrinking as baby boomers retire. A report from the Conference Board of Canada says a key to improving the economy and growing the population is to attract immigrants to the region.

In the last quarter of 2018, there were 1,100 job vacancies in southern Nova Scotia, according to Statistics Canada.

To fill positions, Riverside Lobster hires foreign workers through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot project, a federal program designed to attract skilled workers to Atlantic Canada.

The three-year pilot program was launched in 2017 and has been extended until 2021.

Riverside Lobster is bringing in more foreign workers

Foreign workers are flying in every day and Anderson expects to employ more than 300 of them by the end of the month.

But Anderson said employing foreign workers is a short-term solution and the company is looking for a more permanent fix.

One way to retain immigrants is to allow single workers to bring their families, Anderson said. Nova Scotia has the highest retention rate of immigrants in the region at 71 per cent.

"Retention is everything," Anderson said.

A step toward permanent residency

As of March 31, there were more than 1,900 Atlantic employers designated to participate in the program.

Foreign workers hired through the program can work for the sponsor business for one year while waiting for permanent residency. After that, they can work anywhere in the country.

Harsh Shah, originally from India, moved to Nova Scotia after being hired through the program. (Harsh Shah)

The majority of people recruited through the pilot program are skilled workers holding a college diploma, a university degree or a skilled-trade designation.

How a foreign worker ended up in Nova Scotia

Harsh Shah moved to rural Nova Scotia after being hired through the program. He earned a business diploma from Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ont., and is now the manager of MacKenzie's Motel Cottages in Shelburne.

Shah, originally from India, said his employers couldn't find anyone to fill the management position.

"They were having trouble because it's the countryside, nobody wants to move easily here. And the local people, I don't know, weren't as interested," he said.

Shah is still waiting for his permanent residency application to be processed, but he said the application process was simple.

He has a girlfriend, an apartment and hopes to settle in the province where his goal is to one day own a hotel.

"It's nice. The people are great here and it's quiet, beautiful, cheap," Shah said.

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