Fish plant brings in Thai workers

Terry Roberts
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Seafood processing company says local recruiting efforts came up short

The Quinlan Bros. fish plant in Bay De Verde. — Compass file photo

There’s a uniquely international atmosphere in the bustling fishing community of Bay de Verde these days.

About 20 workers from Thailand are employed at the local seafood processing plant in what many believe is a first for the Newfoundland fishery.

Officials with the company that operates the plant, Quinlan Brothers Ltd., say they were forced to look outside the country after extensive recruiting efforts closer to home came up short.

“We would prefer to hire locally, and we put lots of effort into it. Unfortunately, the company was not able to get the contingent of workers it needed,” company spokesman Gabe Gregory said Monday.

About 450 people are employed at the plant, making it one of the busiest inshore processing facilities in the province.

The company experienced some labour challenges last season, and identified the need for 50 additional workers.

Despite what Gregory described as an “aggressive” recruiting effort, it was able to find only 30.

It was later granted approval by the federal government to bring in temporary foreign workers to make up the shortfall, Gregory said.

They arrived last month, and are being housed in company-owned accommodations in the area. Gregory expects they’ll be on the job until the fall, when the fishing season ends.

“They are now gainfully employed, doing various processing jobs,” he explained.

Location a challenge

According to the 2011 census, the population of Bay de Verde is just under 400. During the fishing season, its population swells dramatically.

The company has been able to attract workers from various regions of the province, but several factors have contributed to the shortage, Gregory said.

He pointed to an aging workforce, a shrinking population in rural Newfoundland and the fact most young people are choosing not to work in the fishery.

The plant’s location may also be a factor. Bay de Verde is located in a sparsely populated area at the tip of the Bay de Verde Peninsula, 66 kilometres north of Carbonear, and 90-plus kilometres from Bay Roberts. This makes it difficult for workers to commute. Since the jobs are seasonal in nature, and pay roughly $12 per hour.

The company also competes with other processing plants in nearby Old Perlican and elsewhere in Trinity South for employees.

Plant closures

The timing is raising some eyebrows, and questions were being asked after news of the foreign workers started making headlines late last week.

Just last month, the provincial government received written notification of the permanent closure of seven seafood processing plants throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, resulting in hundreds of job losses. And the unemployment rate for the Avalon Peninsula was 14.4 per cent in April.

Gregory blamed a “failure of public policy” for creating the situation in Bay de Verde. He said the fishery is “highly regulated” by both levels of government, with the goal being to employ a maximum number of people for the shortest period of time in order to qualify for employment insurance benefits.

As a result, the fishery has become very seasonal, making it difficult for people to move to where the jobs are, he said.

“Right now it’s about getting more people on the (EI) books,” he said.

He expressed some hope a series of controversial changes to the EI system will help the industry. But he also predicted the company may have to bring in foreign workers again.

“This kind of requirement could grow. It depends on how quickly the industry can transition  to meet its labour needs,” he said, adding that each year, five to eight per cent of the workforce reaches retirement age.

He said the industry will either have to enhance the productivity of the current workforce, or “bring people into the rural communities.”

Cheap labour

An official with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ (FFAW) union stated publicly this week that the company was being permitted to import “cheap labour.”

FFAW offshore vice-president Allan Moulton said it would create a “two-tiered system” and would “do nothing to build our economies and communities.”

“It’s creates a huge gap that drives wages down,” Moulton told VOCM Open Line Monday.

Fisheries Minister Darin King said the provincial government would consider measures to help the situation.

“If there are opportunities for other jobs, in other communities, then we’re prepared to work with those displaced workers to assist them in getting transportation and arrangements and things like that,” King told CBC News.

The Compass

Organizations: Quinlan Brothers, CBC News.The Compass

Geographic location: Bay de Verde, Newfoundland and Labrador, Thailand Carbonear Bay Roberts Old Perlican Trinity South

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Recent comments

  • any fool can critize ,condem and put down, most do
    June 07, 2012 - 19:05

    a business man ... seems you read the news looking for something to spout your negative comments on.. you claim newfoundlanders are not worth the wages they are being paid and they ask and expect way to much for doing uneducated work, yet you charge companies 100's of dollars per hour to act as a consultant. wonder what you would think if these same companies hired consultants from outside Newfoundland and even from outside Canada. you left a post in another section of the news earlier and i would like to make you aware that not only the fishing and construction industry enjoy the benefits of the EI system. your beloved CRAP party/ government also reaps the benefits of the EI system. many government workers are Term / seasonal / part time, then again, maybe your CRAP government is getting rid of these term / part time / seasonal workers that work for this same government. help someone in need business man, it may even make you feel good.

    • a business man
      June 08, 2012 - 06:30

      please do not put words in my mouth. I never said that newfoundlanders are not worth the wages they are being paid and they ask and expect way to much for doing uneducated work.....please show me where I said that. What I said was that CANADIAN UNSKILLED AND UNEDUCATED workers are not worth the wages they are being paid and they ask for and expect way to much for doing uneducated work. This comment applies to unskilled uneducated workers in Canada, not just in newfoundland.....BUT THIS COMMENT DOES NOT apply to all newfoundland workers or all canadian workers....only the unskilled and uneducated workers. I hope you see the difference. Overall, I beleive that unskilled uneducated workers in Canada are paid too much and do not offer anything more to the employer that justifies the higher wage. As for my consulting business, I have no problem with companies hiring consultants from outside Newfoundland and even from outside Canada....heck, I get hired to consult in Ontario, BC, the USA and even in China/India. I welcome the competition and the opportunity to compete for their clients. I sent to law school, I have my MBA. I can stand on my own. I am not worried about competition, or losing a job. I will just find another. I have invested in myself and don't need the government to protect my job. My job is mine to protect with my skills, knowledge, education and performance, and if someone can do the job better than me, then the company should hire them. Of course, my consulting services include legal advice since I am also a lawyer, so I offer more than the typical consultant. So in conclusion, please be advised that my point is not that ewfoundlanders are not worth the wages they are being paid and they ask and expect way to much for doing uneducated work, but rather that CANADIAN UNSKILLED AND UNEDUCATED workers are not worth the wages they are being paid and they ask for and expect way to much for doing uneducated work

  • Upset
    June 06, 2012 - 13:58

    I have to laugh at everyone on this forum. I must be the only one who has a small buisness and has applied for foriegn workers to work in my store. The amount of RED tape you have to go through is unreal. You have to prove that you cannot find any local workers before they will even look at your application. The cost and the RISK that you take upon yourself is VERY high. To seek workers from outside this province is a last resort for any buisness owner. We have to make a living as well. Nobody wants to work yet we pay one of the highest minium wages in the country. You have no idea how hard it is today to find help. NONE !!!

    • Jim
      June 10, 2012 - 12:57

      Alas,minium wage does not cut it, in this economy you get what you pay for.

  • saelcove
    June 06, 2012 - 12:38

    Hate to inform you brad but Ford got 6.7 billion from the TARP program,( troubled asset relief program)

  • mainlander
    June 06, 2012 - 12:25

    Am I reading this right? The only people who "deserve" to be middle class are white collar workers? Not everyone has the means or desire to get a post secondary education and/or work in an office. I have 2 degrees, I am in the top 10% of earners and work in a for profit corporation only for the paycheque at the moment. I can't wait for the day when I can work somewhere other than an office. This is because of attitudes like "business man". All you care about is the almighty dollar. You don't seem to care about people or have any empathy. Quite frankly you seem a slight bit elitist. I am glad you aren't my boss. Maybe one day you will learn that money isn't everything. How you treat people is far more important than how much money and stuff you have. Fewer and fewer people seem to think like this these days.

  • Red Baron
    June 06, 2012 - 12:20

    I"ve just gone over some math and maybe I've missed something but, if the company paid people $15/hour they'd find LOTS of local takers. So, here is my math... - the cheapest return flight to Bangkok I found was $2200 (airport fees and taxes not included) - I'm assuming these workers will be here for five months which equals 800 hours of work - they're paid $12/hour which comes to $9600 - add the 2,200 and that comes to $11,800 that the company would pay - divide that by 800 hours and you get an hourly cost of $14.75 to the company - that doesn't include the housing the company's providing, perhaps food and so on. Are these costs correct? If they are, it would make absolutely no sense for the company to start building their workforce out of foreign workers. Does the company pay the same overhead costs for foreign workers as they do for local workers? That would be EI, CPP and so on. If they don't than someone from the government had better get on this. It makes more sense to bump up wages to attract more local workers than to ship in foreigners. Or, maybe I'm missing something.

    • a business man
      June 06, 2012 - 22:24

      yes. you are missing the fact that foreign workers cannot join a union, whereas local workers can. Clearly, this company just wants bodies to do some grunt work, nothing more, nothing less. Why would they take the risk of hiring local workers who will then get legal rights to bargain for higher wages and the legal ability to create a work stoppage. It is much better for the company to hire foreign workers, and simply replace them with another body if they try to demand wages. Also, local workers will continually expect an annual wage increase, yet will continue to have nothing more to offer the employer other than their unskilled labour. From a business point of view, hiring local workers is all risk, and hiring foreign workers is all reward. So why would they take on the risk when they can just reap the reward? So in conclusion, that is why this company, and many other companies are willing to pay more to have a flexible foreign workforce. I have done it, and as a consultant/lawyer, I charge companies hundreds of dollars an hour to help companies identify areas of their companies in which they could use cheaper foreign workers.

  • Turry from town
    June 06, 2012 - 06:51

    This is nothing but a way for processors such as Quinlan get cheap labour and not have to pay liveable wages to local people.Instead of shipping out product to be processed cheaply,these companies are exploiting cheap labour and people from other countries by bringing cheap labour to this country. And the rich keep getting richer.

    • a business man
      June 07, 2012 - 07:06

      Actually, this is a way for processors such as the Quinlan Bros. to get labour that is willing to work for the wages that are being offered. Local workers want too much money, and want more than their labour is worth. Not every job has to pay a different wage, and not every worker is entitled to a living wage. It has to be earned. There are some workers, particularly the unskilled and uneducated, that have to work 2-3 jobs to make a living wage, and then there are other highly skilled and educated people like myself who want earn 6 figures annually with 2-3 days of week per week. It is all about supply and demand, and there is an over supply of unskilled labour on the global scale, so there is not reason to pay and unskilled worker more than the minimum. In fact, I argue that the Canadian minimum wage is too high. Also, why would an employer want to pay the employer portion of CPP, EI and so on? By hiring foreign workers, employers can put more money in their bank account. I support the use of Thai workers and applaud the company for putting in the effort to get through the red tape and make it all happen. Now, they can pay what they want and still get the work done. In short, local workers are not needed, especially in jobs where anyone can do the work.

  • mike
    June 05, 2012 - 17:49

    I have a great idea get the people from bay de verde of red head cove or the surrounding area hall um out of bed and say listen here.......i got a job for you,and you have two options.They are to work or guess what?we will cut your welfare check because im from that area and there alot of people of welfare who can work.Beleive me i think if you can cut 5 trucks load of wood a day and sell AND be on welfare,i sure think you could work in a fishplant. I did.Another point EI receptions,they pay taxes and BOOM the government says oh no your ei being cut because your a repeat EI we go again working man and woman gets nailed and look who wins.i think we should all quit work and go on welfare and sell a bit of dope on the Whos wins????aint the working the one who too lazy to go to work.RETRACT that.why work for $12 when you can stay on your butt and watch the soaps youll get a check for the same amount anyway.

    • David
      June 05, 2012 - 22:18

      It is simply impossible to re-educate such a person into a worthwhile member of society with any pride in themselves, any dignity, anything but being a lazy, entitled lout. They have a malignant, by now genetic cancer in their brains, and they don't even know they're sick. Thet must be cut off...ultimately for their own good.

  • David
    June 05, 2012 - 14:30

    I'm surprised he found 30 locally. Seriously, someone should interview these people and find out what was the thinking behind such a radical, outrageous decision .....Work!? Here?! I mean, my gawd!

  • Californoa Pete from NFLD
    June 05, 2012 - 12:14

    Bottom line is what it is all about. Lower wages just wait till it hits your pocket and can't find a decant paying job. Welcome sooner than you think to the Club

  • David
    June 05, 2012 - 11:42

    There is simply no personal accountability or sesne of shame here. No system other than a centrallly-planned communist economy can operate under that yoke, and that one simply doesn't work. Yay!

    • lance cove
      June 05, 2012 - 17:21

      This is not a new concept - Deep Sea Products in St Mary's has been carrying out this practice last year and this year.

  • jus sayin'
    June 05, 2012 - 09:58

    Well maybe if this company offered it's workers a better wage and some benefits they would have less trouble attracting young, local workers!! As for the businessman... glad you're not my BOSS!!!

    • a business man
      June 05, 2012 - 20:32

      Why would the company offer a better wage and benefits to local workers when there are clearly people who are willing to work for the lesser wage and without benefits? What benefit would the company get from the extra money paid to local workers? Remember, these are not skilled accountants, engineers or IT professionals...they are not highly educated doctors or lawyers. They are just general labour. There is simply nothing the company gets for hiring local workers at a higher wage. I support the use of foreign workers, especially when it reduces the costs of unskilled labour.

  • Scabbty McSnivells
    June 05, 2012 - 09:13

    I would be happy to work for this company for whatever they would pay me. I would promise not to make a stink about living wages, housing as I have intention of having a family or a home. All I need is enough for two meals a day and place to sleep. I understand the importance of companies making a profit so people like me can continue to serve without asking anything in return. If one of my co-workers starts talking about safety or the environment I will report to the managers to take care of him. I will also report anyone who mentions forming a union as that will undermine our employers’ right to treat employees as they see fit.

  • Robert
    June 05, 2012 - 08:41

    It's nice to see history repeat its self. John Cabot would be pleased with the people that follow his dream for a better life in the new land. If those foreign workers do fine work to take care of their families here in Newfoundland they may replace some of the people that are leaving to better themselves in other parts of our great nation Canada. Who really losses in this situation.

  • Ron O'Brien
    June 05, 2012 - 08:21

    Newfoundlanders' need to be reminded that they were once foreigners too! The Federal government are making a lot of changes that this province needs to address, such as employment cuts! There needs to be more fighting Newfoundlanders, and less squabbling on matters that have more to a self-supported victimized mentality.

  • a business man
    June 05, 2012 - 07:12

    I hope other fish plants take notice and do the same. As a consumer of fish, I'd be happy to see cheaper workers do the work. The product will cost less, and the company will make more money and pay more taxes. There are lots of benefits that all consumers can attain by cutting out the local workers. As far as I am concerned, this is a step in the right direction. As a business man, I have been using foreign workers for many years. it is a great way to get cheap labour for jobs that do not required specialized education and training.

    • Holden
      June 05, 2012 - 09:03

      I take notice, that's why I don't buy from Newfoundland companies. Just ordered a new window from JELD--WEN at Home Depot.

    • What a load
      June 05, 2012 - 10:27

      A business man in name only.

    • Brad
      June 05, 2012 - 12:58

      And no wonder the economy is in a mess, it's because of people like you. Let me give you a quick history lesson. Why do you think Ford became so successful? Because Henry Ford thought "If I pay a wage that is affordable to my workers, they will buy my products". Also, out of the Big 3 car manufacturers, only Ford did not receive a bailout for the US govt. However, I'm gonna nicely put this nicely in business speak for you. You mean to tell me Quinlan Bros did not try to increase wages of $3/hour per worker (which would work out to the same costs of brining in the Thai workers and housing them)? Baloney! I'm willing to bet your company (that is if you really own one) has a very high turnover rate! That's because these guys jump ship at the first offer of more money. Perhaps if you treated people better you might get more respect. Jus sayin.

    • response from a business man
      June 05, 2012 - 20:50

      Brad, firstly I will agree that the middle class is likely the most important thing to a successful economy. However, I am highly educated and wish to see Canada's middle class comprised of white collar workers who work in office/professional positions. I think Canada is too good/educated for a middle class that contains blue collar workers. So on that note, I believe every blue collar job (fishery job) that is lost is a step in the right direction. Secondly, yes, again you are right in that Henry Ford was a genius for paying his workers a wage that allowed them to buy his product. That said, let me give you a economics lesson. In the currently economy, I don't need my workers to buy my goods and services......I just need them to work. I don't even need Canadians to buy my goods and services. I do just fine with revenues from countries all over the world. Henry Ford needed North American workers to buy his product. I do not. I can pay workers minimum wage while selling to other people and ultimately make more money. As for the high turn over rate, I certainly have a high turn over rate. But the jobs are unskilled only takes 30 mins to train the workers, so I just plug and play different workers like random tools. Get resumes every day, which means I have all kinds of random unskilled workers to plug and play as needed. I only hire on 3-6 month contracts anyway, because there is no point in keeping an unskilled worker beyond the point where they are entitled to a raise or job security. By strategically maintaining a high turnover rate by pluging and playing workers on 3-6 month cycles, I can have a cheap workforce of unskilled workers who I can dispose of as I see fit. I don't treat skilled employees (engineers, accountants, IT people ) like this, because they have specialized skills and training....they are valuable. For unskilled uneducated workers, I truly beleive that the minimum wage in Canada is too high. But that is okay, because it is that high minimum wage (and the high dollar) that is driving companies to move blue collar jobs offshore, which is perfectly aligned with my interests and vision for Canada. Lastly, the economy is not necessarily in a mess. Interest rates are low, and cheaper labour is readily available. This is actually a great time for moving profitable operations offshore to make even more money. The strength of the Canadian means that the savings are greater, since the dollar's value makes Canadian labour comparatively more expensive. From where I sit, the strategy of a profitable company moving unskilled jobs offshore is like free money in the bank, because of the cheaper labour as well as the tax grants (free money) given by US states to reward companies who create jobs.