UPDATE: Bay de Verde employer defends decision to fire worker

Spokesman points to "racist remarks" as reason for termination

Nicholas Mercer nmercer@cbncompass.ca
Published on June 6, 2014

Englee resident Pernell Fillier was recently fired from his job at the seafood processing plant in Bay de Verde.

Photo by Nicholas Mercer/The Compass

A spokesman for Quinlan Brothers Ltd., St. John's lawyer John Mate, is defending the company’s decision to fire a "disgruntled" employee at its Bay de Verde seafood processing plant earlier this week over what, citing what he described as “racist remarks.”

Englee resident Pernell Fillier, 35, said he was terminated after he refused a relocation that would have seen him go from a company owned rental property in Bay de Verde to alternative lodgings in nearby Old Perlican. The move was necessary, he was told, in order to accommodate the 19 temporary foreign workers from the southeast Asian country of Thailand, who arrived Thursday night.

Under government regulations, Mate explained, all the foreign workers are required to live together.

“All Quinlan Brothers workers are required to respect their co-workers,” said Mate. “They can’t be harassing their co-workers and they can’t be making racist remarks and that’s what happened here.

“He basically said he wasn’t going to tolerate having to work with people from Thailand.”

When speaking with The Compass on June 5, Fillier said he was asked to move to Old Perlican and, subsequently, would lose out on some of his regular hours because of it. He also complained that he did not have a vehicle.

Mate said Fillier's claim that he would have his hours-of-work reduced are incorrect.

Fillier would receive the exact number of hours and pay he was used to receiving, Mate explained. The company tried to find him alternate accommodations in Bay de Verde, but ”the fridge didn’t have enough space for him,” Mate noted.

“They said they would look into it for him, but he had to move out because the government imposes requirements on Quinlan Brothers that foreign workers have to be put in the same place,” he said. “Quinlans is simply complying with government requirements.”


Looking for workers

The Bay de Verde-based seafood processing company employs 600 workers, roughly 580 of whom are Canadian citizens.

Mate said the company had no choice but to look outside the country for workers, similar to what it did in 2012.

“It’s a situation where there is a labour shortage,” said Mate. “They already bring people in from all over Newfoundland, other places in Canada and from elsewhere and they’re still hiring.”

The spokesman said Quinlan Brothers has been advertising since last fall.

“They’ve been trying to find workers locally and have not been able to find enough workers,” said Mate.

The labour shortage has been so severe the company has had to ship out loads of product to competitors because of the amount coming in versus the number of employees they have to do the work.

“This isn’t a cost-cutting measure,” said Mate, who criticized media coverage of the dispute, suggesting the company's reputation had been damaged by comments made by Fillier.

He said Quinlan Brothers are required to pay temporary foreign workers the same wages as local employees and would welcome any workers they can find.

“They’re hiring anyone capable of doing the job,” said Mate.

Fillier, meanwhile, said there is a lack of loyalty at the plant, which attracts workers from many different regions of the province, and is one of the busiest in the industry.

“Their attitude is 'take it or leave it,'" Fillier stated. “If you say anything, you’re fired.”

Mate refuted this, saying the company could not tolerate Fillier's attitude. As a parting gesture, he said the company was assisting Fillier with transportation back to his hometown on the Northern Peninsula.

It was Fillier's fourth year working at the plant, which requires that he leave home in April and return in late November. He earned $12.79 per hour.

Prior to his departure, Fillier said there is a sense of unrest at the plant as they prepared for the arrival of the foreign workers late last week.

News coverage of Fillier's termination — prior to assertions by the company that he made racist comments — touched of a flood of angry postings on social media and The Compass website, with many criticizing the temporary foreign worker program, and offering words of support for Fillier.

Several readers called on the workers to unite and send a message to the employer that Canadian workers should be treated with respect and fairness, while others defended the company, saying it routinely advertises for workers throughout the province, but with little success.