New Brunswick

Laid-off PotashCorp workers from Sussex head west

Dozens of laid-off potash workers and their families have started leaving Sussex to take jobs in Saskatchewan.

Exodus will hurt town's economy and social fabric says Wendy Osborne, who is moving to Saskatoon

Laid-off PostashCorp electrician Terry Osborne waved goodbye to his family before getting into his truck on March 3 to drive to Saskatoon to start his new job. (Submitted)

Dozens of laid-off potash workers and their families have started leaving Sussex to take jobs in Saskatchewan.

"I think we've moved past the mourning stage," says Wendy Osborne, who got her layoff notice on Jan. 19, the same day PotashCorp laid off her electrician husband.

With one shocking announcement, the parents of two children, including one in university, were confronted with the prospect of losing both incomes.

"We went in, knowing we were putting all our eggs in one basket," says Osborne. "But in Sussex, there's not a whole lot of baskets."​

PotashCorp has confirmed that 30 Sussex workers have already accepted transfers to Saskatchewan.

The company said it offered to pay up to $60,000 in relocation expenses.

PotashCorp announced on Jan. 19 it was indefinitely closing the Picadilly mine operation and cutting 430 jobs. (CBC)
K&S Potash says it's taking another 10 workers at its Legacy Project mine near Regina.

Osborne says that's enough of an exodus to hurt Sussex — both the town's economy and its social fabric.

"But we have to put food on the table," she says.

Her husband, Terry Osborne, has already gone.

A photo taken on March 3 shows him waving goodbye before he got into his pickup truck to drive to the prairies. Now he's working at the Cory mine, outside of Saskatoon, and living in temporary accommodation with two other New Brunswick workers.

Wendy Osborne will join him in June, when the $2-billion Picadilly mine completes its metamorphosis into a ghost town.

Soon, she'll have to turn her attention to trying to sell their Apohaqui home in what's expected to be a depressed market.

She says this is when she's grateful her husband talked her out of upsizing. She says it may be easier to sell a modest house that they've kept for 18 years, compared to a larger residence.

Terry Osborne (left), pictured here with his daughter Nicole, 21, son Gregory, 16, and wife, Wendy, has already moved to Saskatoon. (Submitted)
"We do have a lot of people for whom that piece is the most complicated," she says.

Last month, Osborne took her teenage son out west for a visit.

"This is a job for us," she says. "But this is a life change for a 16-year-old."

"We're asking him to do Grade 11 and Grade 12 at a school that doesn't have friends that he's been with since kindergarten."

During her trip, Osborne interviewed with the Allan mine and landed a 12-month contract, filling in for a maternity leave.

She says that's a good start to help get settled.

"Terry could have stayed in New Brunswick," she says.

"But his issue was that suddenly there were 60 electricians on the market. So that was going to be his competition and make things a little more complicated."

"My issue, in HR (human resources), is that I don't speak French. So I can't work in three-quarters of the province."

40 declined offer to move

With at least 40 families confirmed to be on their way out, if not already gone, there's some indication it could have been worse.

PotashCorp says it made 70 job offers. In other words, 40 offers were declined.

Why did so many say no? Wendy Osborne thinks some people may have overcome an initial sense of panic.

She says it was easy to express interest up front, but when people looked at the hard reality of moving so far from family and friends, it could have been too much.

"That's a lot to give up," she says.

Osborne says it's also true that people are getting jobs, if not  in Sussex, then not far from home.

CBC News followed up with April Glendenning, who lost her job in the Picadilly mine lab, after working there 10 years.

Within three weeks, she got a position as an environmental manager with OSCO Construction Group in Saint John.

"It was enlightening," she said from her new office. "It shows it's not all bad."

"To be able to stay in the province and help build the economy to where it needs to be, it was fantastic."

Osborne says these are heartening stories. And she says she's happy to hear them.

"Every time we hear someone gets a job, I wish we had a bell we could ring," she says.

"Because it's a win for all of us."