By Paul Hutchings
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
Workers at a N.L. fish plant operated by the Daley Brothers crowded into the cafeteria of the facility in early May to hear about their future. It could be a bleak one.
The plant could face a closure amid a crab sale dispute. The company said it can’t find enough fishermen from whom to purchase products. This in spite of the fact that before and after the meeting there was crab being loaded into a truck outside the fish plant for shipment to another fish plant.
Plant worker Daisy Bishop of La Scie summed it up best after the meeting when asked what the closure of the facility would mean to her and the Baie Verte Peninsula town.
“I don’t want to go away, I’m 62 years old and my husband is 64 this year,” she said. “I have family in Halifax, we may have to go away, but I hope we can stick it out for another year.”
La Scie Mayor Paul Toms said the plant cannot find enough fishermen to sell their crab catches. On the La Scie wharf there are rumblings of some fishermen being owed thousands of dollars in unpaid bills, but none of them would go on the record.
Toms agreed with the general consensus of local fishermen that there is still a lot of product coming into town, but blamed the company for what is happening.
“No one trusts this company. They’ve made promises that they can’t deliver on,” Toms said.
“This is devastating for our town, but we have to keep our heads up and try and find another operator for this plant. That’s our top priority right now.”
La Scie resident Jean Thomas has been working at the plant for 38 years. She said she also may have to move.
“I figured I might get another couple years here, but that might not happen,” said Thomas.
“People are worried about their future, most people here are between 50 and 60. What can they do?”
The news came the same week the federal government announced possible changes to the employment insurance (EI) program that could force EI recipients to work while they are receiving EI payments. Thomas said the potential changes are not realistic.
“A lot of us don’t have the education to move on, some of us have Grade 8, 9, 10,” she said. “From my perspective, I have Grade 8. Where do I go with that?”
Eight-year fish plant worker Jackie Rice said she is in her 40s, and could end up in Fort McMurray with her family, who moved out there some time ago.
“I could go away if I got to, but I don’t want to,” Rice said. “It’s sad to see this town go down like this. There won’t be any businesses or money to provide anything and people are moving.”
Shoe Cove fisherman Jim Foster said his wife works at the plant. The loss of income will have a big effect on his family household budget.
“I’d like to see another company take this over, but I don’t know if that will happen,” he said.
“My wife works here. She brings in her money and she gets her EI so if we lose that, it won’t be good.”
Food Fish and Allied Workers representative Will Reid called the meeting “frustrating.”
“We know people were expecting work and we know that the company doesn’t have the product,” he said.
“We are hoping that the company will put whatever product they have through the plant to create work.”
Reid said part of the problem is that there are less resources being caught in zone 3K, where he said most of the crab comes from. But the La Scie plant could have options for other products if the right operator could be found.
“The plant could handle caplin, herring, mackerel,” he said.
“It’s a good plant with a very efficient work force.”
The fish plant employs more than 300 people, but in its heyday employed more than 750. It has been in operation since the 1960s.