Foreign workers fill a void, but should they really be needed?

Published on July 4, 2014

There’s something seriously wrong. Prince Edward Island consistently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, yet fish plants and farms cannot find enough local labour to achieve full production.

Employers had been turning to the Federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program for help, but recent changes are making that more difficult.

There are lots of solutions to the problem being bounced around in the coffee shops. Perhaps the most common is for the employers to pay their workers more. The argument being that a higher wage would convince local workers to apply for the available jobs. There’s likely truth in that, but there’s a question of how much of an increase the employer can sustain and still remain profitable.

Of course, one way to pay the workers more would be to cut back on the price the companies pay for their raw product, but, in the case of the lobster fishery, fishermen are already complaining they are not receiving enough.

Reducing the length of the work shift has even been suggested, but it is that long shift, especially during a short employment window, that brings the weekly wage in line with those workers in a higher hourly wage bracket, and it does allow for a bigger EI stamp, which is of particular importance in a seasonal economy.

Plant workers can earn a good pay from a long week’s work. A seasonal workforce has to make the most of the opportunities.

One of the benefits of fish plant or farm work, though, is it’s close to home. Sure, there are bigger pay cheques to be had in the oil patch, but they are earned far from home and the work shifts are just as long.

There’s no arguing that fish plant and farm work is arduous and sometimes seven-days-a-week work is hard to maintain.

Besides the toll that has on the body, there are the realities of needing to be available for families. Finding childcare to cover long shifts can be difficult, but presumable less difficult than being in Alberta.

Employers do need access to foreign workers, but those employers also need to do a better job of reaching out to the local workforce; to explain the reason for the long shifts, and to find ways to make the shifts manageable. There is no need for workers to be idle when there are jobs to be filled.