P.E.I. processors continue to turn to overseas workers

Andy
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By Andy Walker

SOU’WESTER

Seafood processors on P.E.I. are increasing being forced to spread their search for workers across the globe.

The problem seems especially acute in the eastern end of the Island – traditionally an area with a high unemployment rate. Seafood 2000 in Georgetown hired 25 women from China in late November and they remained on the job until Christmas. The company hopes to entice them back when the spring lobster season opens in May and has even purchased apartments in the town.

Ocean Choice Limited has been bringing in workers from Russia and Eastern Europe to help staff it’s plant in Souris for the past two years. Last year, the company ran into some problems with the immigration process and Conservative MLA Michael Currie wants the province to do what it can to help expedite the process.

He brought up the matter during the fall session of the legislature with Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Alan Campbell. The minister represents the riding where the Ocean Choice plant is located. "I think that’s a discussion we need first of all have with the Seafood Processors Association," Campbell said. "I’ve seen that sometimes things drag on and they start a little bit late here. I think we need to urge the operations themselves to start the process earlier, and I’d be more than happy to discuss this."

Currie said when he was development and technology minister, he had the opportunity to meet with some of the Russian workers at the Ocean Choice plant. He added, " I was really impressed with some of these people are extremely well educated, spoke good English, and just don’t have that opportunity to find work in their own country."

The Conservative MLA said many of the workers told him they would like to remain in the province. He asked Campbell to appoint somebody in his department to work with the processing industry on the issue.

Campbell said the department was involved in helping the Seafood Processors Association establish an employment office. Both men admitted it was a challenge finding accommodation for workers coming into the area. In addition to the international workers, the Ocean Choice plant has traditionally attracted a pool of workers form Newfoundland and Labrador. "You get a little bit of a fight between community development organization and some of the church groups want to do stuff, but then you have the private sector that want full maximum dollars," Currie said. " It’s a bit of a struggle, but I don’t know how you get around that, because processors are not interested in building bunkhouses and apartment houses."

Campbell said it would be challenging for the private sector to build such housing without knowing how many people might be coming back year after year.

Organizations: Seafood Processors Association

Geographic location: Georgetown, China, Russia Eastern Europe Souris Newfoundland and Labrador

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