One couldn’t help being surprised last week with the news that 20 people from Thailand have been hired to work in the fish processing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.
While this made big news in this province, seafood-processing companies in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick have been bringing in temporary foreign workers for a number of years now.
And, while this may be a historic first for the Newfoundland seafood industry, it is by no means the first time temporary foreign workers have come to work in the province.
The service industry in Labrador City has, according to government sources, been hiring foreign workers before. Apparently, a Subway in Grand Falls-Windsor had to hire six foreign workers recently as they could not fill job vacancies from the local population.
So, the bringing in of foreign workers is not new but when it happens in our seafood processing industry it seems to be an ironic circumstance.
We have so many displaced unemployed plant workers in this province and, with such a high unemployment rate in general, one wouldn’t think we need outside workers.
After all, many of the displaced workers have the skills needed to work in any seafood processing plant or would only require minimum training at best.
On the surface then it seems like we don’t need any foreign workers. But if you scratch a little beneath the surface you will find some of the reasons why this has happened in 2012 and will continue to happen well down the road of the province’s seafood processing industry.
We have an aging workforce in this province and, apparently, five to eight percent of our workers are retiring annually. This fact alone, combined with our aging population, our low birth rate and the point that most of our high school graduates do not want to stay in rural Newfoundland all adds to the situation.
And can you really blame someone in their late 50s or early 60s for not wanting to move away to work? It’s not impossible to retrain or move even at the later stages in life but moving away becomes more difficult in your later years.
Some people lay some blame on our current EI system for the bringing in of foreign workers, as a common thought is that people don’t want to work as long as they are drawing EI payments.
It’s not fair to lay all the blame on the EI system that has been around for a long time. A lot of jobs in Atlantic Canada are seasonal and what can you do to change that?
The changing of the EI system is in place and it will be a long and painful process for some to adjust to the new program.
So, we’d better get used to seeing those foreign workers in our province. A CBC news report on June 5 said that our province will need about 80,000 workers in the not too distant future. Again, with our aging population and low birth rate we will not be able to fill all those positions with local employees.