Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia seafood plant to benefit from eased foreign worker rules

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser is defending his government's decision to remove temporary foreign worker restrictions in a province with a 9.1 per cent unemployment rate.

North Nova Seafoods in Pictou County plant relies on Jamaicans, Thais and Mexicans

Seafood processors have struggled to recruit local people to work in their plants. (Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press)

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser went to the North Nova Seafoods plant on the Northumberland Strait Thursday to defend his government's decision to remove temporary foreign worker restrictions in a province with a 9.1 per cent unemployment rate.

"North Nova is a perfect example. These guys bent over backwards trying to fill jobs," the newly elected Liberal MP told CBC News.

The Pictou County operation is one of eight or nine seafood processing plants in the Maritimes that rely on more than 2,000 temporary foreign workers paid a couple of dollars per hour above minimum wage.

"They set up a bus route that would pick up people who were on social assistance and say we will give you a job and drive you to work and ultimately they were not able to keep very many of the people that were hired on the floor," Fraser said.

"Practically speaking, they need to fill these jobs if we are going to keep other people employed."

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser (left) with Jerry Amirault of the Lobster Processors Association of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. (Paul Withers/CBC)

Employers are still obliged to try and find Canadians. But the exemption allows a company in any seasonal industry to bring in an unlimited number of unskilled temporary foreign workers provided they work fewer than 180 days.

The measure was implemented in February and followed lobbying by the all-Liberal Atlantic caucus and seafood processors who say not enough locals are willing to do the work. The situation is compounded by the region's death rate and declining population.

"When you've got more people dying than being born, you don't have the critical mass to fill these jobs in these rural areas," said Jerry Amirault of the Lobster Processors Association of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Reversing Conservative course 

The Liberals are backing away from a Conservative government policy to wean industry from the program. Amriault said competing countries face no restrictions.

"Norway can get as many Italians as they want: unlimited. So a lot of our competition does not have this problem," he said.

"Throughout the world there is a lot of immigrants come in and work these types of jobs."

But it can be difficult to explain in a province where the unemployment rate is more than nine per cent.

"I can see why people jump to unemployment figures. But we actually have to, and I am proud the government is taking a practical lens to this and we're looking at what is actually happening on the ground," Fraser said.

Ottawa is currently reviewing the temporary foreign worker program. Fraser said he sees an opportunity for access to a long-term sustainable workforce.

He said the review should consider whether the program could be a pathway to Canadian citizenship for the Thais, Mexicans, Filipinos and Jamaicans who cut up and pack lobster on the North Nova line.

"That's an option I'm certainly willing to consider if it's going to help local industries like the fishery to stay afloat and provide jobs for Canadians as well," Fraser said.

"All options are open."

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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