Burin plant closure cuts deep

High Liner decision will eliminate 121 jobs

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on May 4, 2012

It was another devastating blow to a hard-hit part of rural Newfoundland — the value-added fish plant in Burin will close.

In a news release Thursday, High Liner Foods announced it will close its Burin plant, eliminating the 121 full-time jobs there.

“High Liner Foods recognizes that this is a very difficult day,” CEO Henry Demone said in a news release. “We must be cost-efficient to remain competitive. Despite our growth, the reality is that we only need four North American plants to supply our customers.”

Fisheries Minister Darin King acknowledged the closure will be hard on people in the area, and promised the government will support the displaced workers.

However, King said the plant closure is the hard reality of the modern, global fishing industry.

“These things are going to happen. If this industry is going to right size itself, you’re going to see plant closures, and you’re going to see more of them. It’s just the way the industry is evolving,” King said. “It’s certainly not the end of the process.”

High Liner said it would honour all of the commitments it is bound by from when it bought the plant from Fishery Products International (FPI) in 2007.

Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, said he’s not surprised the plant is closing right now, just as the five-year agreement from the FPI sale is expiring.

“The company had all kinds of choices because it’s a very profitable operation and it just saw a  chance to make a bigger buck elsewhere,” McCurdy said. “I think there’s a responsibility on the company here to contribute financially to the cost of adjustment. They shouldn’t just be carpetbaggers and take their leave as they feel like it and just leave the carnage behind.”

McCurdy said that because the Burin plant did value-added products, it’s a particularly hard loss for the people who worked there.

“It did have a substantial history over the last 30 years and it was value added,” he said. “It was above and beyond just doing primary producing of stuff that was at our doorstep. Yeah, it is a loss.”

Opposition politicians immediately jumped on the plant. Liberal MHA Jim Bennett said King should look for someone else to take over and operate the facility.

“There may be something that can be produced there locally, and it may just not fit into a big conglomerate like High Liner,” Bennett said. “And if they don’t want it, that’s just fine, there may be a small operator that would be happy to have it and make money.”

King, however, told reporters he doesn’t believe there’s anything the government can do to keep the plant open.

In the House of Assembly, New Democrat fisheries critic Christopher Mitchelmore challenged King, saying there has been such a steady march of plant closures that the government may not have enough money to support the roughly 600 workers who will be unemployed.

“We have seen closures in Port Union, Marystown, St. Lewis, yesterday in Black Tickle and today an announcement that the High Liner plant in Burin will close by the end of the year,” Mitchelmore said. “Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: What are the short- and long-term plans that he has in place to adequately take care of the people, some of whom committed more than 40 years to these plants?”

King told The House the government is still figuring out how the closure process will go.

“At this point in time we are trying to figure out how the process will unfold for the company in reaching out to the workers, and more importantly, for government in responding to reach out to those workers and those families who are going to be devastated by this news and wondering what their future holds,” he said.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames