Fallen on hard times
“St. Anthony plant workers facing fallout from shrimp quota cuts”
The future is precarious for plant workers in St. Anthony – unless something changes fast.
Audrey Patey, a worker at St. Anthony Seafoods, acknowledges some plant employees, herself included, face a harsh reality.
“I guess most workers are going to have to go elsewhere to look for work,” she told The Northern Pen. “Leave their homes and go away.”
For many at St. Anthony Seafoods, June and July passed this year without receiving a call.
In August, there was a small flicker of hope as the plant began taking cod for processing, marking the first time northern cod was processed at a St. Anthony plant since the 1992 moratorium.
However, workers struggling the most were not the ones to benefit. Most of the work went to those with seniority, many of whom already qualified for employment insurance (EI).
While they worked on the cod, some of the struggling workers were called in to do the shrimp. But it wasn’t a lot.
Patey was one of those employees. She got 27 hours of work out of that, grossing $450.
Shrimp production is finished at the St. Anthony plant for 2018 and that represented all the hours she worked at the plant the entire summer.
It’s a long way away from the 420 hours she needs to qualify for EI that will help her through the winter.
Patey, 56, has made her home in nearby St. Lunaire-Griquet her entire life.
She’s worked at the plant for the past 19 years. It was just a couple of years ago, she said, she was getting 600 hours a season.
Then came drastic cuts to shrimp quotas, meaning less shrimp for the inshore boats that supply the plant.
If the St. Anthony plant can’t find something to replace the shrimp, Patey has a hard time seeing how she can continue making a living on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula.
Her husband works seasonally as a carpenter at Churchill Falls but his income alone would not be enough to sustain their livelihood. She needs to work, too.
And there are not many other opportunities for long-term employment in the region.
At least for this year, there are provincial government work programs.
The Northern Pen has learned the Town of St. Lunaire-Griquet will act as sponsor for the 201819 Impacted Fish Plant Worker Program to help some St. Anthony Seafoods employees get the 400 hours they require to qualify for EI.
In July, the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment announced a $2.5-million program, focused on creating short-term employment for workers from fish plants deemed impacted by the downturn in the fishing sector.
St. Anthony Seafoods employees will be able to submit resumés to the Town of St. Lunaire-Griquet to seek work.
St. Lunaire-Griquet mayor Dale Colbourne felt it was an easy decision to make for the town.
“We can’t let these people go with no hours for the winter, we just can’t do it,” she told The Northern Pen. “It wasn’t much of a decision to be made.”
The town is in the process of determining what jobs will be available.
Colbourne says there’s a lot of little projects that needs to be done around town, for instance work on the playground and ballfield.
It isn’t known yet when work will start.
Trudy Byrne, a plant worker and the FFAW-Unifor representative at St. Anthony Seafoods, has been acting on behalf of the workers since August, trying to procure a program.
She believes things should be moving faster, given how desperate the situation is, with 32 to 34 workers needing anywhere from 25 to 390 hours to qualify for EI.
“These people are in desperate need of those programs to start as they have zero income and EI exhausted since April for most of them,” she told The Northern Pen. “Since the $2.5 million was allotted early on in the season for plant-worker support, it should have been readily available before now.”
The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment released a statement to The Northern Pen indicating it had sent applications to potential sponsors, the Town of St. Lunaire-Griquet as well as the St. Anthony Port Authority.
Those applications will be processed immediately upon return, the department said.
Cuts in shrimp
Patey will be applying for work through a program. Without that, she says she doesn’t know what she would do or how she would get through the winter.
St. Anthony Seafoods employs approximately 90 people in St. Anthony and the surrounding area. Cuts in the shrimp quota have negatively impacted the plant’s production.
Audrey Patey, 56, of St. LunaireGriquet received just 27 hours of work at St. Anthony Seafoods this summer. She’s worried about what the future holds.