A worker at North Nova Seafoods in Caribou weighs in as other workers process crabmeat last fall. General manager Mike Duffy said that prior to the arrival of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, North Nova Seafoods was only able to operate at a capacity of 65 per cent due to a shortage of workers. He noted changes to the program could have long-term negative consequences for the seafood processor. File photo
CARIBOU – For the past four years, North Nova Seafoods in Caribou has used the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).
Without it, general manager Mike Duffy said the processing plant couldn’t function at full potential.
“Prior to the arrival of the TFWP, North Nova Seafoods was only able to operate at a capacity of 65 per cent due to a shortage of workers despite continuous advertising of job vacancies.”
For some businesses, such as North Nova Seafoods, access to labour outside Canada is an important part of day-to-day operations. That’s why changes to the TFWP handed down from the federal government have Duffy scratching his head.
“If the current proposal put forth by the government is implemented, the long-term viability for North Nova Seafoods is diminished,” he said.
According to the federal government, TFWP was created as a last and limited resort to allow employers to bring foreign workers to Canada on a temporary basis to fill jobs for which qualified Canadians are not available.
After some high-profile reports on abuses of the program, Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenny announced an overhaul which came into effect this past June.
The government position is that Canadians must be first in line for available jobs. Greater onus now is on employers to recruit and train Canadians.
Duffy understands that Canadian workers must to be hired first and only resorts to TWF when positions remain unfilled.
“Why would North Nova Seafoods go through the expense of investing in housing, and the cost to bring these TFW in if there were local workers who could show up for work on a regular basis and fill these positions?” he asked. “The TFW come to Canada to work so that they can support their families back home. There is never an issue of them showing up for work no matter what time of day it is, because in this industry landings can happen any time of the day or night.”
Jerry Amirault, a member of the Lobster Council of Canada and a representative of lobster processors in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, is working with provincial and federal representatives to find common ground. He said these issues aren’t unique to Pictou County.
“We’re talking about 33 million pounds of lobster at stake in the east if we lose capacity in 2014,” he said. “Maintaining capacity means hiring TWF.”
He noted that in the Maritimes, some areas are experiencing net out-migration and a shrinking of the labour pool. This situation requires a deeper understanding from government and the general public.
“All businesses are constantly looking for workers. We offer jobs to Canadian workers and are committed to these communities but we’re businesses competing in a world market.”
According to Amirault, the processing sector deals with absentee rates of 15 to 20 per cent from local workers while TFW show a stronger work ethic.
“Here are the facts: 100 local people show up for an interview, 30 will be hired, and only 10 come to work,” he said. “Why should we be held accountable?”
It’s not just seafood processors using the TFWP. Through an access to information request, it was learned that almost 30 Pictou County restaurants, organizations and businesses participated in the program from 2009 to 2014.
For Michelin North America, they said the program has been used to share highly skilled and trained workers throughout their operations across the globe.
“We do not use this program for any production or maintenance positions at our plants,” said Deborah Carty, communications director for Michelin. “Recently, we have hired 20 to 30 new employees at our sites in Bridgewater and Waterville to meet demand with (160) Granton employees relocating to benefit those two sites.”
From time to time as part of their career management process, Carty said a small number of employees from other countries train and work at Michelin. Approximately 60 to 70 Michelin Canada employees are working for Michelin outside of Canada.
“Generally, those who are assigned for international work are in senior management positions and have specialty skills,” she said.
Local restaurants have also accessed the program for cooks, food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related occupations. While most restaurant managers couldn’t be reached or declined to be quoted in The News, one owner indicated that likely the restaurant will not be accessing the program again due to more stringent guidelines and fees. Another manager indicated some jobs were left vacant six months as the restaurant tried to find a local worker before accessing the TFWP.
Effective immediately, the government is refusing to process certain applications in the accommodation, food services and retail trade sectors. Additionally, any applications for positions that require little or no education or training will not be processed in economic regions with an unemployment rate at or above six per cent.
Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic Canada Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, believes that potential workers find government support rather than local employment more enticing.
“We don't have a problem with not having enough workers to take jobs, the problem is there are some people who would rather collect EI than work,” he said. “We have to change this. We can't grow our economy unless we harness the potential of every single worker.
He questions why in Nova Scotia thousands of short-term foreign workers are brought in when in any given month there are around 26,000 people collecting Employment Insurance.
“It’s time to reform the EI program into something that actually helps people who through no fault of their own become unemployed. Maintaining the current system only serves to perpetuate the cycle of high unemployment, high taxes and loss of young people to out west.”
But for places like the North Shore region, where employment decreased 1,300 for the first half of 2014 and the labour supply fell by 2,300 for the same period, Amirault feels the TFWP is actually protecting local businesses from closing their doors.
“Things like snow crab are now processed in China,” he said. “It’s better to protect the Canadian jobs here than send businesses offshore.”
Duffy agrees and noted that North Nova Seafoods has invested heavily in new equipment to increase their capacity but without the work, it will be impossible to do.
“The reality is that when we have the TFW to bolster our work force, those local workers who are here are far more secure in their jobs than if we would not have them.”
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn
Number of employers by percentage of workforce made up of temporary foreign workers in 2013
TFW % Number of employers Estimated TFW entries
All 12,162 20,235
More than 10% 6,097 16,278
More than 30% 2,578 9,678
More than 50% 1,123 4,522
For those employers that currently have a low-wage temporary foreign worker workforce above the 10 per cent cap, effective immediately, when those employers apply for a new workers they will be limited at 30 per cent or frozen at their current level, whichever is lower. It will be further reduced to 20 per cent beginning July 1, 2015 and reduced again to 10 per cent on July 1, 2016.