Special to The Valley Echo
On the final day of operations at Canal Flats’ Canfor sawmill, new numbers brought to the village’s council meeting are showing the impact of the shutdown on mill employees.
Canfor numbers show that between May and now, a total of 53 workers (excluding those who accepted transfers to other Canfor mills in Radium Hot Springs or Elko) have been laid off. Health and dental benefits will continue for all workers for another six months.
It’s unclear whether these numbers include those workers who chose to retire, said Mayor Ute Juras during the village’s November 9th council meeting, while just kilometres away, several employees were in the midst of their last shift at the mill.
Four security watch positions have been created now that the mill is closed, she added. Canal Flats workers filled all the positions, in accordance with seniority. The positions involve two 12-hour shifts, and workers will rotate on a four days on, four days off basis. The positions are needed for 24 weeks, and maybe longer.
Juras noted there are three or four production positions still available at Canfor’s Elko sawmill, and that no former Canal Flats workers have accepted Canfor positions available in northern B.C.
Due to the mill closure, Canfor has also suspended its contract with Hoobanoff Logging, with those operations set to wrap up in May 2016.
A WorkBC report indicates two former Canal Flats sawmill workers have sought help at the Invermere WorkBC office, while nine people have sought assistance at the Cranbrook WorkBC office.
The first working group meeting aimed at assessing the future of the forest industry in Canal Flats was held on Wednesday, October 7th, and included representatives from Canfor, the Ktunaxa First Nation, provincial officials, industry partners, Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald, and Juras. More recent meetings were held on October 19th and on October 26th.
While no details are available about the outcome, Juras said the progress is encouraging.