Nfld. & Labrador

Fish plant workers wonder if OCI can live up to employment promises

Fish plant workers on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula say they're not confident in assurances about jobs and are questioning whether their employer is living up to promises it made.
Allan Moulton worked at the fish plant in Marystown for 42 years and says he wonders about how much fish OCI is really shipping out of province for processing. (CBC)

Fish plant workers on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula say they're not confident in assurances about jobs and are questioning whether their employer is living up to promises it made.

The fish plant in Marystown is currently being demolished after Ocean Choice International (OCI) shut it down in 2011.

For Allan Moulton, who worked at the plant for 42 years, it's a heartbreaking sight.

Moulton said OCI shut down the plant when workers refused to agree to more processing exemptions for the company.

"How many more plants are we going to see like this that are going to be shut down and demolished as this government gives companies like OCI and others the right to almost ship at will now," he said.

Meanwhile, the plant in Fortune remains standing, but quiet.
The fish plant in Marystown is still being demolished, and some plant workers on the Burin Peninsula wonder what is coming for the plant in Fortune. (CBC)

Workers at that plant expected to be on the job for the last two months. OCI committed to 110 jobs at the plant in exchange for government dropping minimum processing requirements (MPR).

Fortune Mayor Charles Penwell said OCI promised 35-40 weeks of work, but was unable to make that happen this year.

"The deal was to provide close to full time, year-round work for 110 workers [and] they did that in 2014. Because of the struggles this year, they've struggled to do that," said Penwell.

According to Penwell, the company was dealing with low catch rates paired with yellowtail that was too small for processing.

"Even though they're full grown fish, the ones that are 200 and 300 grams really are not much good for anything, that's why OCI needed to ship them out whole to begin with," he said.

"You can't process that through the [Fortune] fish plant because what you'll get in a fillet will be so small, it just won't even work."

Of the MPR exemptions OCI received, four totalled more than 1.4 million pounds. The other two exemptions didn't have specific amounts attached.

According to Moulton, that leaves the question of how much exactly is being shipped out by OCI, unanswered.

"So the question really is, how much is really being shipped that we don't know anything about if the amount is not even specified? Government's got a responsibility to the people of this province to do better than that," said Moulton.

The Fortune fish plant is expected to start up operations in June, offering about 20 weeks of work for the rest of the year.

With files from Martine Blue

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