Local MHA contends provincial programs help plant workers
© James McLeod/The Telegram
The Ocean Choice International fish plant was wrecked in Port Union when flood waters from hurricane Igor overflowed a nearby pond and tore through the building.
Port Union — The provincial government is putting up $275,000 to help workers from Ocean Choice International’s (OCI) processing plant after it was destroyed by hurricane Igor.
The funds will allow all workers to qualify for employment insurance (EI) this year by providing them with enough work to collect 420 hours.
However, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union contends this isn’t enough.
“All the workers are very upset with the 420 hours,” said Jim Dalton, union representative for the Port Union plant. “It seems to me that Danny Williams and his government cares very little about people in the fish plant — he’s proving it every day.”
Dalton contends a special case should have been made for the plant workers this year — up to $400,000 should have been given to workers for 600 hours of work, rather than 420 hours.
When the workers went on enhancement projects last year, Dalton said they had a rough time making ends meet.
“(The workers) couldn’t afford to pay for their (medication); they had a problem paying their mortgages, problem paying for their cars and everything,” he said. “(The union) asked (the government) to make a special case this year for Port Union where it was destroyed by the hurricane.”
Dalton said he’s also disappointed with Bonavista South MHA Roger Fitzgerald because he didn’t do enough for the workers.
“(The union) asked Roger to make a special case this year, like a one time deal and put people to work for $600 for 14 weeks. Roger seemed like he was going along with it then he said no,” Dalton said. “It seems like the provincial government is doing absolutely nothing to rectify the problem.”
The Opposition agreed with the union, saying the provincial government is shortchanging the plant workers.
Marshall Dean, Opposition fisheries critic, said in a news release the workers feel their cries for help have been ignored.
"It seems like the provincial government is doing absolutely nothing to rectify the problem." Jim Dalton, union representative for the Port Union plant
He contends the 420 hours isn’t enough for workers and many may have to relocate to the mainland for work.
“The people of Port Union feel they (have) been let down by the Williams government with this insufficient program,” Dean said in the release. “(The) government and the (local) area’s MHA Roger Fitzgerald could have done more to help the people of Port Union by providing 600 hours of work to each of these workers.”
However, Fitzgerald argues that other plants in the region — not just the Port Union plant — were disadvantaged too.
“It’s difficult to have a program designed for every plant,” he told the Packet. “What we’ve done is put the program forward that we use every year. We made extra money — in this case, $275,000 of taxpayers’ money — directed wholly and solely towards the workers in Port Union.”
Fitzgerald responded to Dalton’s comments by saying, he invited Dalton twice to a meeting with potential sponsors for the top-up programs.
“(Dalton) was invited to come to the meeting on two occasions from me, but he told me he was too busy to attend,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ll let everybody else decide who’s got the best interests of the people of Port Union.”
He said the program allows workers to qualify for EI without competing for the hours.
“If anyone went to work for one hour in that fish plant this year, they will qualify and they won’t have to compete with anybody else,” Fitzgerald said, “That’s what the government has done and that’s what we’ve been able to do for the plant workers... at the Port Union plant.”
Although Fitzgerald said he would have liked to have seen more work weeks and money, the government has to work within the guidelines set out by the treasury board.