The Co-op Refinery Complex in Regina says it provided formal notice to Unifor local 495 that it intends to make layoffs. Talks between the two began early Thursday morning.
The news comes just under a year after a bitter, six-month labour dispute lockout at the refinery ended in June, 2020.
The number of official layoffs was not settled on yet, but Unifor says they were told that 87 jobs needed to be "reduced."
Co-op says the layoffs will be for permanent in-scope positions. The decision is largely due to what the refinery called "operational efficiencies achieved while preparing to shift toward the low carbon economy."
"Obviously, our industry is changing. We are transitioning to a low carbon economy. We are investing a great amount of time and potential money into our energy roadmap, which will serve as the roadmap for our future in this ever changing industry," said Co-op Refinery Complex spokesperson Brad DeLorey.
"There is no one that has been laid off. We are taking a collaborative approach to this, looking at all options and working with Unifor 495 in order to lessen any type of impacts that there could be to the workforce right now."
DeLorey says the Co-op and Unifor will be looking at current vacancies and voluntary separations, including early retirements.
"We certainly recognize that these are always difficult conversations," he said, and added conversations with Unifor 495 will continue over the coming weeks and months.
'People are upset'
Nathan Kramer, president of the local 495, says the union plans on presenting cost saving measures to the refinery, among other potential solutions.
"It does look, though, like unfortunately, a lot of that will come through layoffs, but that's that's not a sure thing at this point," Kramer said.
He says the news that layoffs would have to be made due to operation efficiencies is not a surprise to Unifor.
"They've been telling us since we came back after the labour dispute that we would eventually be talking permanent layoffs. They just never really elaborated or discussed it further with us until yesterday. I don't think we expected the number to be that large, but it was expected."
Kramer says there are currently approximately 625 employees at the refinery.
"The phone's been kind of off the hook. People are upset. They're angry. They feel a lot like this is still almost a fallout from the lockout. It doesn't appear to be so much about money and operational efficiencies in our eyes," Kramer said.
"There's ways to save significant money and it doesn't have to be on the backs of workers and their families."
Kramer says he does not believe the layoffs are necessary. He says as Saskatchewan opens up again, more people will be hitting the road and needing fuel. He says the industry is on an upswing.
NDP call for premier to take action
In a statement, NDP Labour Critic Carla Beck and NDP Jobs and Economy Critic Aleana Young called on the province and Premier Scott Moe to do more to protect the local economy and laid off workers.
""It is heartbreaking to hear about layoffs at the Co-op Refinery today. These workers have already been through an extremely tough year after having been unfairly locked out of their jobs for months during a pandemic," the statement said.
"It's a disaster. Mass layoffs and job losses in our energy sector like this are devastating for families and devastating to our local economy."
Beck and Young said that local layoffs spell trouble for Regina and the province as a whole.
"We need a real jobs plan to help people who are out of work and a plan to protect our local economy. Scott Moe needs to show some leadership and help laid off workers instead of crossing his fingers and hoping things get better."
CBC has reached out to the Saskatchewan Government for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.