UHS employees get ready for a load of fish. (Westerly file photo)

Ucluelet fish plant looks at hiring foreign workers to fill spots

“Our first choice is employ locals.”

Ucluelet Harbour Seafoods (UHS) has over 100 spots to fill for the 2020 season.

Personnel clerk Alison Mcgee said they’re not just hiring anyone anymore.

“We are looking for the right fit for the right job. There was a philosophy at the plant that if someone shows up, we give them a job. We want to build teams, so our co-workers can work together in a safe environment,” said Mcgee.

UHS general manager Dave Dawson said the Ucluelet plant pays a starting wage of $16.50/hour for fish processing positions.

“You need to be able to pick up 30 pounds comfortably and stack it. There are a lot of jobs here that a lot of guys could do. You need to be able to work long hours and work well as a group because it’s a team effort,” said Dawson.

“Even if you had a physical disability that you couldn’t [lift], we have other jobs you could do,” he continued.

Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel remembers growing up in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s when all his friends worked in the industry.

“All the kids that grew up here were down at the docks. It would be nice to see a bit of that come back. It would be nice to see the kids learning to use the forklifts,” said Noel.

He said working at the local fish plants instilled work ethic and drive.

“I hope people take advantage of that and lessen the need for the operator to bring people from out of country to fill some spots,” said Noel.

A recent application from UHS to hire Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) under the Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program was successful. The federal government gave them permission to bring in 40 TFW during the Covid-19 crisis.

“It’s not our first choice. Our first choice is employ locals,” said Dawson.

“We would love to be able to put that program on hold for a year. We would love if we employed a bunch of locals. We have the hotels if people from Nanaimo or Victoria want to come up and live in the hotel,” he said, adding that UHS secured staff housing at the former Thornton Motel.

According to Dawson, UHS is in the process of bringing in 20 TFW from Mexico. The Mexican fish processors would arrive in Ucluelet towards the end of May and follow quarantine guidelines.

“The [TFW] would not leave the hotel room for 14 days. We would take daily temperatures. They would be paid 40-hours a week during this time,” Dawson said.

He said the new TFW from Mexico would be on a different program then the Fijian workers that have lived in the community for years.

“These TFW, just like the agriculture business where they come in the country for 180 days, they work and they have to leave. We cannot apply for a temporary residency on this program.”

“We’re going to follow the rules. I don’t want anyone sick in our plant. We need to protect the safety of our team,” Dawson said.

UHS re-opened its facility on April 22 with solid Covid-19 precautionary measures put in motion.



nora.omalley@westerlynews.ca

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READ: ‘Underwhelming’ support for agriculture industry: BC Fruit Growers’ Association

READ: Four temporary foreign workers on separate flights to B.C. test positive for COVID-19

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