Beyond cheap wage labour: an investigation into qualitative labour shortages and mobility in the New Brunswick fishing industry

Knott, Christine. (2017) Beyond cheap wage labour: an investigation into qualitative labour shortages and mobility in the New Brunswick fishing industry. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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High unemployment and outmigration (either temporary or permanent) for work are longstanding features of many rural areas in Canada, particularly Atlantic Canada. In recent years, some workplaces in these areas have come to rely on workers from other parts of the world, often brought in as temporary workers. This dissertation considers the apparent paradox associated with a combination of claims of labour shortages and reliance on outside workers in regions and sectors with high unemployment and ongoing outmigration for work, whether temporary or permanent. The seafood industry (both capture and aquaculture) in a rural region of New Brunswick provides an ideal case study to investigate this paradox. The dissertation asks how and why labour forces in seafood processing in a region of New Brunswick have shifted over time from local to regional and international. It also examines the consequences of these changes for work quality and local communities. Work quality includes wages, work schedules, job security, and other aspects of the working lives of employees (including childcare, eldercare, emotional care, and volunteer work) that encapsulate our lived experience and that overlap with, and are intricately connected to, our work rhythms. The conceptual framework that guides the dissertation includes insights from feminist political economy (changing corporate structure and government policy, capital accumulation strategies, financialization, and cheap wage labour), and Nandita Sharma’s distinction between quantitative and qualitative labour shortages. The framework structures the analysis of shifting labour-capital relations alongside changing labour forces, workplaces, and community dynamics associated with this sector for the period between 1900 and 2014, with a focus on the latter fifty years. This framework aids in understanding how historic and current competitive conditions in the global political economy involve cheap and often, mobile workers via gendered, and in some cases racialized, divisions of labour and surplus labour pools on regional, national, and international scales. Data are derived from document analysis and thirty-six semi-structured interviews with seafood processing workers, plant managers, community business owners and key informants associated with seafood processing in one region of New Brunswick carried out in 2012. These interviews explored employee recruitment issues and strategies, employer definitions of good workers, changing work environments, and the industry’s shifting corporate structure. Information about the larger policy and corporate context, as well as the changing structures and investment strategies of regional seafood processing companies and their relationships to labour force change and employment quality, came from qualitative document analysis of newspapers, government reports, and news releases. This dissertation contributes significantly to critical discourses about the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and its impacts, and in particular presents a sustained qualitative assessment of the low-wage stream of the TFWP. It also demonstrates the role of employers and managers in the qualitative construction of vulnerable and cheap labour forces in the context of changing labour forces (local, intraprovincial, interprovincial and international) and how these have intersected within one industry.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 13025
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 312-337).
Keywords: Seafood Processing, Financialization, Aquaculture, Labour, Intersectionality
Department(s): Divisions > On the Move Partnership
Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Sociology
Date: 2017
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Foreign workers--New Brunswick--Economic aspects; Labor supply--New Brunswick; Seafood industry--New Brunswick; Quality of work life--New Brunswick.

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