'I was so sad': Brandon students speak out against federal cuts to Maple Leaf English classes
The plant's union says federal funding will run out at the end of June
Workers at Brandon's Maple Leaf Foods plant are speaking out against proposed cuts by the federal government that would impact their English language training.
"I was in shock," said Tetiana Melnichenko, who works on the cut floor at the pork-processing plant. "It is very important for me and for our family to study English and to improve our English. I was shocked in a bad way."
United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 832, which represents workers at the processing plant, says the federal government has given them notice that their funding for the language training will be "largely or completely" cut at the end of June.
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"I'm still hoping the problem will be solved and we'll have a chance to continue our lessons," Melnichenko said.
She and her husband moved to Canada from Ukraine three years ago. They had been living in Thompson, but moved to Brandon specifically to take English courses.
A university graduate and accountant in Ukraine, she was working at Maple Leaf to upgrade her English to enable her to enroll in school, with hopes of working in accounting here.
UFCW Local 832 president Jeff Traeger said without the funding, the union will longer be able to offer classes above level 4.
'I want to keep studying'
Zhen Li, who also works at the plant, is at level 5. She had high hopes of opening a restaurant in Brandon with her husband. Without taking English classes while she works, those hopes may be dashed for now.
"I was so sad," Li said when asked for her reaction to hearing of the cuts. "I want to keep studying."
Li said she may have to study on the internet if she can't continue classes, and hopes she can help her husband with his English skills.
"We're going to do everything we can with or without government funding," Traeger said at the UFCW's Brandon training centre on Tuesday. "There have been some really good success stories."
Claudia Colocho is a union representative in Brandon and went through the program.
"I can't even explain it … it was my basic learning of English," said Colocho, who came to Canada from El Salvador in 2005 as a temporary foreign worker. "It was the basis for learning all of the English I know now.
The program is funded by the government, the union and Maple Leaf. Traeger hopes the union can work out a deal with Maple Leaf to keep programming running after the federal funding runs out.
Melnichenko hopes so as well.
"I would like to continue education here in Canada," she said. "I feel like every day I make myself better ... it is very very important for me."
The federal government told CBC News earlier this month that it could not discuss funding decisions for specific organizations.