The Experience of Unemployment for Fishery Workers in Newfoundland: What Helps and Hinders

Article excerpt

In this exploratory research study, the unemployment experience of people involved in the fishery and living in the outports of Newfoundland and Labrador was explored. Fifty-three critical incident interviews were conducted by community outreach workers. These interviews yielded important information about the factors that facilitated or hindered the unemployment experience. In interpreting the results, both the general literature on unemployment as well as the special contextual aspects of the situation were explored.


Over the past 8 years, the impact of the 1992 Atlantic Groundfish Moratorium on Newfoundlanders has been felt on two levels. With an immediate loss of 30,000 jobs (Wall, 1999) within the fisheries and the subsequent "ripple" effect on the economy causing the loss of an additional 10,000 jobs, the effects of unemployment have taken their toll on the Newfoundland population as a whole. Families with well-established roots in small communities were forced to consider moving and relocating to find work, younger Newfoundlanders moved from the outport towns to the city or beyond to the mainland in search of opportunity, small communities became secluded within themselves as money became too scarce to engage in social events and outings, and a collective culture began to change.

Using critical incident methodology, this research sought to discover what experiences helped or hindered primary industry workers affected by the closure of the Northern Cod fishery in Newfoundland. This article explores the experiences of workers involved in the fishing industry of Newfoundland and the impact of a primary industry closure on these workers.


Unemployment is generally acknowledged to be a challenging, stressful situation (Borgen & Amundson, 1987; Goldsmith, Veum, & Darity, 1997; Harris, Heller, & Braddock, 1998; Kulik, 2001). The impact of unemployment on mind and body has been extensively researched and explored. Physically, there remains some debate over the cause of health concerns of unemployed workers, yet there is no denying the effects. Warr, Jackson, and Banks (1988) reported that decline in health increased with prolonged unemployment. Unemployed workers have been found to be "more susceptible to disease, to require more attention from medical personnel, to end up in hospitals more often, and to experience more common symptoms such as colds, viruses and minor injuries" (Taylor & Gavin, 1985, p. 5). Hypertension, high blood pressure, ulcers, heart disease, and other stress-related illnesses increase among the unemployed (Kokko & Pulkkinen, 1998).

Psychologically, unemployed individuals are seriously affected by prolonged job loss and demonstrate more frequent symptoms of poor mental health (Hoffman, Carpentier-Alting, Thomas, Hamilton, & Broman, 1991; Kokko & Pulkkinen, 1998; Wanberg, 1997). Depression seems to be the most widely reported psychological symptom (Archer & Rhodes, 1993; Lang, 1995). Depression affects the unemployed worker on multiple levels and specifically challenges the worker's ability to retrain and reenter the workforce because of the individual's loss of self-esteem. Vuori and Vesalainen (1999) described unemployed workers as feeling discouraged about their capabilities because of their unemployed status. Taylor and Gavin (1985) stated that the "person has such low self-regard that he or she is unable to function in society" (p. 7) and that they "may tend to be more submissive or less assertive" (p. 7), affecting their ability to act as agents in the work world. The degree to which self-esteem is affected, however, seems to be time dependent. In exploring levels of self-esteem throughout differing lengths of unemployment, research indicated that participants often felt optimistic, satisfied, and with a high desire to work in the initial stages of their loss of work (Amundson & Borgen, 1988; Borgen & Amundson, 1987). …