Paper Excellence set to inherit an aging workforce
Urgent need to quickly hire and train a new generation of workers at Catalyst
Political and labour leaders are optimistic that the purchase of a B.C. pulp and paper giant, which until recently was at the centre of an International Trade Commission complaint, is good news for workers and the communities they support.
B.C. Jobs, Training and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston said the purchase of Catalyst paper secures 1,500 direct jobs in the province by ensuring the continued operation of the mills in Crofton, Port Alberni and Powell River.
“I think it’s a good announcement,” Ralston said in an interview Tuesday, particularly because the sale to Paper Excellence Canada (PEC) — the B.c.-headquartered subsidiary Mike Rumley, president of Unifor Local 76, which represents workers at Catalyst’s Powell River mill, said the sale will be good for workers.
of Paper Excellence group — is complete rather than partial.
“There was some concern Catalyst might sell piece by piece,” as the company had done with its American operations,
The sale of Catalyst to PEC still needs to go through a government regulatory review process before it is officially approved, which the company said will take place
at the end of this year or early 2019.
The fate of the mills, which account for a large portion of the jobs in the communities in which they operate, was thrown into uncertainty when a Washington-based paper producer claimed Catalyst and other Canadian operations were “dumping” paper products on the U.S. market. Tariffs were placed on the company but were subsequently overturned by the American International Trade Commission, which found Canadian paper did not injure the U.S. industry. Mike Rumley, president of Unifor Local 76, which represents workers at the Powell River mill location, said he thinks the sale will be good news for workers. “We’re going to be owned by a company where paper is what hey’re in it for,” Rumley aid in an interview Tuesday.
Banks are currently the largest shareholders in Catalyst, which Rumley said left some workers concerned the mills may be closed. “What I know so far is Paper Excellence Canada plans to run all three mills, so that’s a good thing,” Rumley said.
Yet the exchange won’t do anything to solve another serious problem facing the workplaces. With the sales of newsprint — Catalyst’s main product — in decline over the last several decades, the company had a long hiring hiatus between the 1970s and more recent years.
The result is that experienced workers at the mills are retiring in droves, and there is an urgent need to quickly hire and train a new generation of workers.
“For my local, I have 230 members. There are only 80 of us who have more than seven years seniority,” Rumley said. “Paper Excellence Canada will need to carry a few extra people,” he said, in order to have a well-trained workforce in the future.
Ralston said he’s encouraged by Paper Excellence Canada’s history of buying old mills and investing in modernization, something he thinks will help keep the Catalyst mills sustainable.