Fallen on hard times

“St. An­thony plant work­ers fac­ing fall­out from shrimp quota cuts”

Northern Pen - - Front Page - BY STEPHEN ROBERTS

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.

Work pro­grams

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.

STEPHEN ROBERTS / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

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.

STEPHEN ROBERTS / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

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.

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