Nfld. & Labrador

Forestry workers laid off early by Abitibi

The trucks that bring logs to the AbitibiBowater mill in Grand Falls-Windsor were ominously silent Thursday, as 235 forestry workers were told Wednesday they are officially out of work.

The trucks that bring logs to the AbitibiBowater mill in Grand Falls-Windsor were ominously silent Thursday, as 235 forestry workers were told Wednesday they are officially out of work.

The workers will receive paycheques until the end of March, when the mill is scheduled to close, putting another 450 employees out of work.

After that, they will likely get nothing because they don't have severance packages included in their collective agreement.

"It makes it harder. But what can you say? What can you do?" said Clayton Young, who's been driving through the woods of central Newfoundland for 27 years.

"They told us there earlier we could get another four to six weeks. But [Wednesday] morning, I heard this was our last day," Young said.

When Abitibi-Consolidated closed the mill in Stephenville, N.L., in 2005, it gave loggers a severance package even though it wasn't legally obliged to do so.

However, AbitibiBowater is not likely to do that because it's struggling financially.

Rick Fudge, who speaks for the unionized forestry workers, thinks it's an issue that should be brought up during any talks between the government and the company.

"We believe there's an opportunity there for the government and the company, once they've resolved their differences, to consider the fact that these workers should be paid severance," Fudge said

The Newfoundland and Labrador government, with the support of opposition members of the house of assembly, passed legislation last December to expropriate all Abitibi Bowater assets in the province, except the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.

In a statement to the legislature, Premier Danny Williams said the government will expropriate all hydroelectricity rights from the generating station at Star Lake, as well as all timber rights to forests on Crown land. The assets will be run by Nalcor, the provincially owned energy company.

The company has threatened legal action to fight the expropriation.