Nfld. & Labrador

Come By Chance refinery workers playing waiting game after rejected sale

Jeff Slade, a scaffolder working at the refinery, says Origin International's interest in the facility had workers optimistic for the future, and people were caught off guard by the deal's rejection.

Refinery has had its ups and downs, but always pulls through, says scaffolder on site

The employment future of hundreds of workers at the refinery remains uncertain after an offer to buy the Placentia Bay facility was rejected last week. (John Pike/CBC)

Come By Chance workers say a rejected sale of the refinery is a blow to the community and has dampened their optimism about the facility's future.

Jeff Slade, a scaffolder working at the refinery, said many workers were optimistic for a future with Origin, and the scuttled deal caught many in the community off guard.

"Everybody's pretty quiet, pretty let down by it," Slade told The St. John's Morning Show on Monday. "It's like they pulled the rug right out from underneath you. Everybody was pretty optimistic that something was going to happen."

Silverpeak, owners of the idled refinery, rejected an offer from Origin International on Thursday. In a statement, the company said the offer was "not in the best interests of our stakeholders or the long-term benefit of our employees and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."

Slade, who said he's been working at the refinery for 20 years,, said the rejected deal is the latest in a series of ups and downs.

"We're just hoping that it's going to go up again, someone's going to step in and take it over."

Jeff Slade, left, is a scaffolder at the Come By Chance Refinery. Dan Baker works for a contractor on the refinery site. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Dan Baker, who works for a contractor on the site, is working other jobs for the time being, but relies on the refinery to support his family.

"At this point I'm just hoping for the best," Baker said. "I don't wanna move away from home and go away on a turnaround somewhere to work.… The refinery is a good place to work.

"I'm hoping that once the markets come back from COVID … hopefully the refinery will come back up."

I think the government should be doing whatever they can do to keep the place going.- Dan Baker

Slade said he has job prospects available in Alberta and British Columbia, but sees leaving leaving Newfoundland and Labrador as a last resort.

"A lot of people are hanging on, but then again there's a percentage of people that are moving on to something else, because they can't find anything," he said. "You can't wait too long. You got to look for something."

Both Slade and say the provincial government should be involved to help cement the future of the refinery, which represented one per cent of total gross domestic product in the province last year, or roughly $300 million, according to the Department of Finance.

"I think the government should be doing whatever they can do to keep the place going, regardless of the cost, to a point," Baker said.

"It was only a year ago or so the refinery was a jewel of the East Coast as far as refineries went," he added. "When COVID hit, everything went south. I'm hoping that once we get that behind us, so to speak, the markets will go up … and we can all continue on."

Both men say they still hope a deal will be done to reopen the refinery.

"It had its up and downs and it seemed like it always pulled through somewhere or another," Slade said.

"If she was a good refinery a year ago, what's the difference in now?" Baker added. "It's still a good refinery, it still makes sense to have it."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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