Fish plant has work, but no workers

Kevin Higgins khiggins@ganderbeacon.ca
Published on December 14, 2013

In a province that has seen some of the highest unemployment rates in the country, it must be hard for employers to fathom there is a shortage of workers.

Vaden Oram is one such employer scratching his head as to why he can’t get enough employees to work at his fish plant, Terra Vista, in Glovertown when there is plenty of opportunity.

Actually, he said he’s not scratching his head too much, as he knows exactly why he’s struggling to fill the positions he currently has open on his sea urchin processing line.

"It’s frustrating as there are a lot of experienced fish plant workers in the district who are able to work, but refuse to due to an EI program that allows people to stay home and receive benefits unnecessarily," he said. "There’s no doubt there are people out there collecting EI that could be working."

Oram said the federal government said more than a year ago it would have more complex rules for EI recipients to keep their benefits, and the goal would be to get unemployed workers back into the workforce sooner.

To assist in that goal, the federal government launched a new service to provide information on available jobs and labour market conditions to subscribers via email.

However, Oram’s concern is job searches.

In its new EI program changes this past spring, the federal government stated a suitable job search would include preparing resumes, registering for job banks, attending job fairs, applying for jobs and undergoing competency evaluations. It said such a search would be defined by such factors as commuting time, and whether the hours are compatible with the claimant’s life and wages, as well as taking into consideration personal circumstances, such as health, physical capability to perform work, family obligations and transportation options.

The new rules also put job seekers into essentially two groups — people who have long paid into EI, but rarely make a claim, and those who are regular users of the system, such as seasonal workers.

It went on to state that a suitable job search for the latter group must include jobs that are similar to what they used to do, and if one of those isn’t available after a certain period of time, the job seeker has to take any position they are qualified for and accept as much as a 30 per cent pay cut.

This is what has Oram frustrated.

"We know there are people out there that can work, but aren’t. The federal government needs to do more to make sure those claiming benefits are trying to find work," he said. "When the changes came out, we were flooded with calls from people looking for work, but then it died as they figured out government wasn’t doing any followup."

He said his company is doing its part in promoting that it has work available, as well as making it easier on commuting workers from neighbouring towns.

"We have a bus that leaves each day from Dover and drives through Hare Bay, Gambo and Glovertown to pick up workers and drop them back home in the evening," he said. "On the side of the bus is a sign saying we are looking for workers. We also put our jobs on the government website, and use a community Facebook network to let people know.

"Most of the interest we’ve gotten is from outside the province. There’s no doubt there are people in our area out there collecting EI that could be working."

Oram said he doesn’t disagree with EI, as it is certainly necessary in seasonal industries such as fishing.

"However, it shouldn’t be a way of life. … It should only be there if needed," he said. "There’s times when it’s necessary, but when there’s work available, people need to work."

Oram said he is sending raw material out of the province to Maine to be processed because he doesn’t have enough workers to do the job in Glovertown.

"Sea urchins is a new species for us, and I brought it on to bring more consistency to the work at the plant," he said, noting the sea urchins processing usually runs from about October to mid-March.

"It’s a low-profit species, so for us it’s there so we can keep a good core of workers. However, this is not happening because government is letting us (in the industry) down.

"The simple thing is, government needs to do more followups and get on the phone and start calling people, especially in areas where work is being advertised."

The Beacon