TORONTO—Prince Edward Island’s premier says he raised concerns about a drop in the number of temporary foreign workers available to work at the province’s fish plants.
Wade MacLauchlan said March 23 he expressed the growing concern among seafood processors over potential worker shortages during his meeting with Federal Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre in Ottawa.
In an interview from Toronto, he said the number of foreign workers for the 2015 fishing season that begins in early May will be about 25 per cent lower than the figure allowed under the program since rules changed last June.
“We want to be sure we explore with our federal counterparts how the program can be sensitive to the concerns of P.E.I. and the other Atlantic provinces with our primary industries,” MacLauchlan said.
“Even last year there were times when our processing plants couldn’t operate at full capacity. … We would like to have this going at full speed.”
The premier said he’s looking for flexibility to take into account the needs of the fish plants.
The program was criticized last year after allegations surfaced that some employers, particularly restaurants, were abusing it and not hiring Canadians who applied for the same jobs.
Ottawa introduced new rules to be phased in by July 2016 that limit the number of temporary foreign workers that large- and medium-sized companies are permitted to hire.
Besides the cap on foreign workers a business is allowed to hire, the program also paves the way for more inspections of workplaces, greater fines for companies that abuse the program and increased application fees for employers.
Meagan Murdoch, a spokeswoman for Poilievre’s office, provided an emailed comment saying the federal government wants to ensure that Canadians are given the first opportunities at jobs.
“That is why we are ensuring that the temporary foreign worker program is a short term, last, and limited resort for employers when there are no qualified Canadians to fill available jobs,” says the email.
The minister’s office also said a pilot project is allowing Canadians receiving employment insurance to take jobs while keeping a portion of their benefits.
“The Working While on Claim pilot project allows employment insurance claimants to keep some of their benefits while on claim so that they are always better off working,” said the email.
The department’s website says the pilot project increases the incentive for claimants to accept available jobs by allowing them to keep more of what they earn while on EI, as benefits are reduced by 50 per cent of total earnings from working while on claim.
The minister’s office says the department’s figures for 2013 show there were more people receiving employment insurance who had experience in fish plants than there were temporary foreign workers in those plants.
MacLauchlan said he’d like to see more workers on employment insurance in the plants, if possible.
“That was one of the constructive parts of the discussion,” he said. “We may find there are some opportunities.”