IDNUMBER 202005040007
DOCID: 406699996
PUBLICATION: Miramichi Leader
DATE: 2020.05.04
BYLINE: Adam Huras
SOURCE: Miramichi Leader
KEYWORDS: parliament,ottawa,house,commons,approved,package
ILLUSTRATION:Photo: Submitted / The House of Commons has approved a $9-billion package for students, although with a pledge to first offer them jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector in order to ensure 'regional economic stability and food production during this crisis.';

Fish-plant job offer 'a slap in the face': students

PARLIAMENT HILL OTTAWA The House of Commons approved a $9-billion package for students last week, but with a pledge to first offer them jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector to ensure "regional economic stability and food production during this crisis."

Questions remained about whether that will do enough to fulfil Premier Blaine Higgs'request that New Brunswick's post-secondary students take on summer jobs as farm and fish-plant workers.

The head of the New Brunswick Student Alliance says Higgs's request is a "slap in the face to young people" trying to forge ahead with their own careers - and the manager of a seafood processing plant says he can't even get his own son to commit to taking a job.

Meanwhile, Higgs said on Thursday that he was pleased with the federal program, hoping students will "answer the call."

A slimmed-down House of Commons unanimously passed a plan to give students and recent graduates who have seen their job prospects dry up because of the COVID-19 pandemic receive $1,250 a month from May to August.

The program actually got a financial boost with opposition parties negotiating that those who have a disability, or are taking care of someone else, see their amount increase to $2,000 a month.

But it also now requires them to receive employment opportunities through a government-managed job-posting site, after complaints from the opposition Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois that the money amounts to an incentive to stay home.

The amended legislation states that the government will "implement new financial incentives and support measures to connect Canadians, particularly students and Canadian youth, to the various jobs available, for example, in the agriculture and agri-food sector, in order to ensure regional economic stability and food production during this crisis."

Applicants will be directed to a job bank before receiving the benefit, although much of the government's plan is still a work in progress.

The changes come as the Higgs government moved ahead with a ban on temporary foreign workers that the premier maintains can be offset by unemployed New Brunswickers and students on summer break.

Higgs said on Wednesday that there are 30,000 post-secondary students in New Brunswick looking for summer employment and roughly 40,000 unemployed New Brunswickers.

He contends they can fill in for the roughly 600 temporary foreign workers that New Brunswick businesses have requested.

That's receiving pushback. "Summer is the time when you utilize your skill sets and build up experiential learning and then you have a premier and government saying 'I don't care about your experiential learning opportunities, go work at the fish plant,'" New Brunswick Student Alliance executive director KJ Conyers-Steede said.

"It's basically a slap in the face to young people.

"You will have some students who are in dire need of employment and will go into fish plants or agriculture, but for the most part, students are saying they would prefer to sit and study."

Conyers-Steede said the entire purpose of seeking higher education is to determine your own career, suggesting that the government "doesn't understand" that.

Nathanael Richard, corporate affairs manager at Cape Bald Packers, which processes lobster and crab and employs about 500 workers at two Cap-Pelé plants, said on Thursday that it's a perennial challenge to recruit workers.

"We have an aging workforce in New Brunswick, we have a dwindling labour pool, young people today are not interested in working in fish plants," Richard said. "These are tough jobs.

"I have a 17-year-old son, I'm trying to convince him right now to work in our fish market this summer and I'm having a hard time, let alone convincing him to work on the production line."

The federal job bank already had several New Brunswick listings.

The Shediac Lobster Shop, Westmorland Fisheries, Suncoast Seafood, and Captain Dan's -all in southeastern New Brunswick -have postings for lobster processor jobs that range from $13 an hour to $17 an hour.

Meanwhile, farms across New Brunswick are also advertising positions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to create an extra 76,000 jobs the government says it will fund in sectors "that need an extra hand," with details still to come.

The feds say they will be spending millions on extending scholarships, grants, and fellowships as well as doubling the Canada Student Grant program.