As Northern Pulp shutdown looms, workers seek new careers

With their mill about to close, Northern Pulp workers are exploring their employment options, and many of those opportunities may be outside Nova Scotia.

A post on Facebook from Wednesday shows Northern Pulp workers posing with the final bales the mill will produce.

"A very sad post today ... It was a very sad day, because they're a family," said Linda MacNeil, the Atlantic director for Unifor, the union that represents Northern Pulp workers.

Roughly 140 Northern Pulp workers attended a recruitment session by J.D. Irving that was held at the Northern Pulp mill on Tuesday.

"There are a number of skill sets of the workers which would be applicable at our other [operations], including shipbuilding, pulp and paper, and construction and equipment," said J. D. Irving spokesperson Mary Keith.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

She said the company plans to hire 6,800 full-time positions by 2022, with 87 per cent of those jobs located in Atlantic Canada.

"It's safe to say the majority of postings will probably be in New Brunswick," Keith said.

Unifor said other employers in Nova Scotia's forestry sector have also been recruiting at the mill, but the jobs don't pay nearly as well.

Info session ignored

The provincial government organized an employment information session Tuesday in New Glasgow that attracted zero Northern Pulp workers, possibly because similar sessions had already been held at the mill.

"We had over 250 individuals in those sessions, so we've done a lot of this work ... We've also had a number of people who have already been in to a lot of our organizations and centres inquiring," said Amanda White of Nova Scotia Works.

She said some Northern Pulp workers have expressed interest in starting their own businesses or in obtaining certifications in trades where they have work experience from the mill.

The union said its members want jobs, not to be retrained.

"Politically, I'm sure it sounds great and [Premier Stephen] McNeil's going to pat himself on the back for that. And some will take that opportunity, don't get me wrong, so I'm not saying it's a total bad thing, but what I am saying is it's a far cry from if he had made the right decision [and not forced the closure of the mill]," said MacNeil.

Unusual offer

Meanwhile, Paper Excellence, the company that owns Northern Pulp, has offered to help relocate Nova Scotia workers to fill vacancies in B.C.

The company has also offered to recognize the union seniority of the Northern Pulp workers under the new contracts.

"I don't give employers credit a lot, but I will give it where it's due," MacNeil said. "In this case, they deserve credit for actually thinking about their employees and their futures."

Northern Pulp employees still have time to decide what to do next. MacNeil said that under their current collective agreement, they'll continue to be paid until April 21.

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