It seems one key factor killed the Burin secondary fish processing plant. Cathy Dimmer, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union local at the facility, said the operation had a lot going for it, but also one critical knock.
“We’ve been told we’ve got the perfect plant, but we’re in the wrong location,” Dimmer said.
“They say we’ve got the perfect workforce. The union has a good relationship with the company.”
Not only that, but the average employee age is 54, she said, relatively low compared to many other fish plants in the province.
Friday, after about 70 years in operation, the Burin fish plant, currently owned and operated by Nova Scotia-based High Liner Foods Inc., was scheduled to close — likely for good, unless a new buyer/operator can be found.
High Liner acquired the Burin facility, along with other assets, during the breakup and sale of Fishery Products International (FPI) in late 2007.
As part of its agreement with the provincial government, the company agreed to operate the plant for a minimum of five years, which is now about to expire.
Among the other assets High Liner purchased was FPI’s profitable marketing arm, responsible for the three-decades-old Seafood Elites line, which, Dimmer said, it would be sending to the United States, as well as the award-winning nuggets product that was created as part of a pilot project in the early 1980s.
Dimmer said her understanding is the plant has been put up for sale. She said she believes High Liner had no intention of staying longer than the five years.
Disappointment aside, she tempered her comments with a few compliments for the company, noting High Liner put off a Christmas turkey dinner for 150 people at the Burin plant earlier this month.
“It is a good company to work for. I wouldn’t be able to say nothing bad about them. They’re certainly helping in regards of the plant closure, anything that we need.”
Meeting production levels
Dimmer said there’s a “penalty fund,” estimated to be as high as $2.5 million, that the company had to pay into it if it did not meet certain production levels annually. That is now supposed to be paid out to workers, she said, although there were issues recently with how it will work in relation to employment insurance.
She said the penalty amount was small initially, but grew with each subsequent year, foreshadowing the company’s eventual intentions.
“Some people was going to have to use some of that for medical. Some of them are on very expensive drugs here. Terrible really, when you think about it. People are here wondering what they’re going to do.”
Meanwhile, Dimmer said she has met in the past with government officials, including Burin-Placentia West MHA Clyde Jackman, regarding future possibilities for the facility, and she plans to do so again.
“No one’s to say it got to be fish. It could be anything. It’s a good facility.”
The Southern Gazette