“It’s like being handcuffed,” says FFAW local representative
It’s a tough place to be without a job.
St. Anthony, population 2,258, is one of the most remote rural towns in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
On the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, it looks out over the open waters of the North Atlantic and its economy is bound to the fishery and tourism.
For the 100 or so people who worked at St. Anthony Seafoods, there are simply no other jobs.
Trudy Byrne worked at the plant for 21 seasons and is chair of the FFAW union local.
She told SaltWire the plant has provided a decent income for most of the employees, with a pay rate of $16 per hour and several weeks of work each year.
Last year, according to Byrne, most of the workers got nine weeks of work, and some overtime in those weeks.
Shrimp quota cuts meant less product from local fish harvesters, but the company processed frozen-at-sea shrimp and about 500,000 pounds of crab, said Bryne, and that helped provide work on the lines in 2019. About 35 people had to turn to make-work projects to get enough hours to qualify for Employment Insurance.
For this season they had been hanging their hopes on the proposed joint-ownership deal between Clearwater Seafoods and Quin-Sea, and the prospect of more raw material and hours of work for the plant.
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Because of the delay in a decision by the province’s fish processing licensing board, and the subsequent decision by Clearwater Seafoods not to operate the plant this season, Byrne and her co-workers are in a hard spot.
Employment Insurance benefits will run out for most of them in June, leaving them to rely on the $500 per week Candian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for another 16 weeks and nothing after that.
They’d all prefer to be working, she said.
But when the few local businesses shut down due to the pandemic and tourism dried up, the help wanted ads went disappeared too.
“Right now we don’t have any lookout for work, and we don’t have any lookout for income once EI is exhausted,” Byrne said in an interview. “You’re like somebody in handcuffs tied to a chair and not able to do anything.”
It’s an anxious time for everyone, she said.
The second blow this year, she says, was to find out that the relief program announced earlier this month for the fishing industry, did not cover plant workers.
“The only thing I could say right now that would bridge the gap between 2020 and 2021 is to extend our EI benefits based on our 2019 work, until next year.”
Beyond that, she said, workers hope the joint venture between Clearwater and Quin-Sea will be approved and will go ahead in 2021.