Seafood Coalition says changes to foreign worker program unfairly singled out industry

Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

(TC Media) PICTOU – What’s good for the agriculture industry should be good enough for those working in seafood, says the Maritime Seafood Coalition.

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 

In light of recent changes to the foreign workers program, the coalition, which is made of fish processors and fishermen associations from all three Maritime provinces, says the seafood industry needs regulations in place similar to agriculture or it will continue to decline.

“The Maritime Seafood Coalition support 100 per cent hiring every Canadian willing to work, but the overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program unfairly singled out seafood from the seasonal agricultural/ agrifood workers program. Since these changes, many fisheries workers have seen their visas expire and have been forced to return home,” stated the coalition in a recent press release.

Marilyn Clark of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association said although transitioning workers into permanent residents is the preferred option, newcomers can only be sponsored to stay in Canada if employers can provide full-time employment. In most fisheries, however, landings are seasonal as determined by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“As it stands, the seafood industry is excluded from a coherent seasonal worker program, and is also restricted from sponsoring new Canadians because jobs in the sector are considered unskilled, seasonal, or, both,” she said.

In contrast, agricultural worker shortages have been recognized and remedied through the negotiation of bilateral labour agreements with source countries. Although signing Memorandums of Understanding for the international movement of people has been a Canadian practice since 1966, when it comes to the seafood industry, government is unwilling to align an industrial policy with a responsive immigration strategy.

Clark said the agricultural businesses are permitted to recruit the necessary labour for production objectives. Seafood processors within two years will be limited to 10 per cent of their current labour force regardless of supply volumes and of the commitments made to thousands of local harvesters. 

The seafood industry raises concerns that they do not have the labour necessary to process perishable supplies, service existing customers, or avail of opportunities from recent trade agreements, yet this government continues to overstate the availability of local labour.  

“Rather than providing constructive solutions that recognize labour pools are segmented, that wage elasticity varies according to job types, and that attrition exceeds attraction, federal leaders seem determined to unfairly limit growth in the seafood sector,” she said.

The coalition rejects the biases that have disqualified the seafood sector from seasonal migration programs. Although commodity types differ, job descriptions, labour characteristics, wage rates, and market dynamics remain typical to Agri-food.

The Maritime Seafood Coalition supports primary resource workers and sees these as instrumental to the economic diversification of our region. The World Bank, the OECD, and other policy centres report that the seasonal agriculture programs and migrant labourers promote growth, increase GDP, and contribute to better standards of living for both sending and receiving countries.

Before deciding on the future of seafood processing in Atlantic Canada, the Maritime Seafood Coalition asks that the Canadian government recognize that the region is at a point of no return.

Moving away from value-added production when the demand for Maritime resources, products, and expertise are on an upward trend translates into unwarranted decline.

“If this government does not change their course of action, Canadian jobs will not be protected; they will be exported,” Clark said.

In the absence of local production capacity, Canadian seafood companies will be forced to enter free trade areas at a clear disadvantage. Without a low-skill migration program to supplement local Canadian labour, free trade agreements can only encourage the export of its raw materials for processing outside of Canada. This phenomenon would only contribute to job losses, depressed shore prices, and regional outmigration.

“In defence of our entrepreneurs, harvesters, and coastal communities, we demand that this government re-evaluate the role of low-skilled labour migration and adapt its policies to the realities of our industry,” she said. “The federal government must immediately acknowledge that fish is food, and, that attraction and retention problems in this sector are real and crippling.”

In advance of this years’ election, Clark said the government, in collaboration with the seafood industry, must develop and adopt a practical labour migration strategy.

“Given our short seasons, and the resource dependency of our coastal communities, lost opportunities are simply unacceptable.”

Organizations: Maritime Seafood Coalition, Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, Department of Fisheries and Oceans World Bank OECD

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Agri

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page