PEI

Fishermen, processors try to sway Jason Kenney on foreign workers

The Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association and Seafood Processors Association spent two hours Sunday with Employment Minister Jason Kenney trying to change his mind about the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

Purpose of meeting was to explain why they couldn’t find locals to staff their operations

The P.E.I. Fishermen's Association says members are worried about next spring and whether plants will be able to process all the catch landed.

The Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association and Seafood Processors Association spent two hours Sunday with Employment Minister Jason Kenney trying to change his mind about the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

The purpose of the meeting was to explain to the minister why they couldn’t find local Islanders to staff their operations.

Dennis King with the processors said they are prepared to accept some of Kenney's suggestions, such as improving working conditions and raising wages.

"We haven't believed right from the beginning that this is about wages and things like that,” he said. “But the processors are quite willing to sort of address that issue, over a phased in period to get the wages up to a level that the minister has suggested will help us with finding and retention of workers."

Ian MacPherson with the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association says his members are worried about next spring and whether plants will be able to process all the lobster landed.

"I mean, it is a big concern,” he said. “We don't want to put panic or concern out there unnecessarily. We've been working behind the scenes with the processors association and our elected officials so we're going to continue to do that."

Kenney wasn’t swayed and says in P.E.I., with high unemployment, processors should be able to find local workers.

King said it’s not an industry that is attractive to Islanders.

Maybe we start to try to make this a better job in the eyes of locals.- Dennis King

"As an industry we've talked about maybe we take a look at the wage structure, maybe we start to try to make this a better job in the eyes of locals,” he said.

When the minister laid out his stand at the meeting of the Canadian Chambers of Commerce in Charlottetown, its members also said they needed foreign workers.

Quentin Bevan with the Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce isn’t expecting Kenney to change his mind.

“We just feel that the changes, even though they announced there were going to be changes, we feel the changes are so extreme that there should be a little bit of transition time for our members,” he said.

The fish processors said they're prepared to raise wages by 40 per cent over five years, but they claim Kenney says they should be able to do that now.

“We advertise, we work hard we try to recruit,” King said. “We do everything we can, the workers we have, the majority which are local, are good workers, we're glad to have them we want to continue to keep them, we know they need EI because its a seasonal industry. We're not here advocating to get rid of the EI system."

King says the real problems will occur next spring if plants can't get enough workers to process lobster.

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