There's a uniquely international atmosphere in the small fishing community of Bay de Verde these days.
Some 20 foreign workers from Thailand are now 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, say they were forced to look outside the country after extensive recruiting efforts closer to home came up short.
“The fact is that the company has a demand for labour, and wasn’t able to fulfil it this past winter locally, and really is left with no other choice but to take these kind of avenues,” company spokesman Gabe Gregory told CBC News last week.
According to the 2011 census, the population of Bay de Verde is just under 400. However, the local plant requires between 300 and 400 workers at various times throughout the season.
The company has been able to attract workers from various regions of the province, but several factors have contributed to the shortage, Gregory explained.
He pointed to an aging of the 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 very tip of the Bay de Verde Peninsula, some 66 kilometres north of Carbonear, and some 90-plus kilometres from Bay Roberts. This makes it difficult for workers to commute, since the jobs are seasonal in nature.
The company pays roughly $12 per hour, which is competitive with other companies, said Gregory.
The timing is raising some eyebrows. Just last month, the provincial government received written notification of the permanent closure of seven seafood processing plants throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.
And the unemployment rate for the entire Avalon Peninsula was 14.4 per cent in April.
An official with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' union (FFAW) 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 on June 4.
Fisheries Minister Darin King said the provincial government would consider measures to help displaced workers.
"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.