NorSask lays off 62 employees at its Meadow Lake, Sask., sawmill; workers unsure if terminations are temporary or permanent, says USW

MEADOW LAKE, Sask. , October 31, 2008 (press release) – NorSask Forest Products Ltd. has informed the United Steelworkers (USW) that termination notices have been sent to 62 employees effective December 19, 2008. But USW Local 1-184 President Paul Hallen says members are left wondering whether the 'terminations' are temporary or permanent.

Notices sent to workers say "current economic conditions simply do not allow us to continue operations at this time."

They also state: "Lumber prices will recover and at that time NorSask will start up again and at that time we will contact you in the hope that you can rejoin NorSask as an employee."

"This has of course brought very disappointing news to our members, to Meadow Lake and to outlying communities," said Hallen, adding that the company is sending mixed messages about the future of the sawmill.

"Our members in the mill have experienced periodic layoffs over the last two years as well as permanent job losses and terminations," said Hallen.

"This is another blow to workers, many families and Saskatchewan's forest industry."

The mill normally employs about 100 USW members plus salaried staff. In March the mill reduced its operating capacity to one shift in the sawmill and planer, working four days per week.

Hallen said NorSask workers have gone without wage increases for the last couple of years in hopes of assisting the company keep the mill in operation, while looking forward to better days in the industry.

"The company has also been creative in an attempt to have at least some degree of operating capacity," he said, adding that the mill closing is yet another blow to the forest industry in Saskatchewan and across the country.

Hallen said the notices are a further indication of the seriousness of the forest industry crisis in Saskatchewan and across Canada, damaged further by the 2006 Harper-Bush softwood lumber agreement and the US housing market slump.

"Neither the provincial nor federal governments have shown any interest in finding meaningful solutions to the on-going disintegration of one of our province's most vital industries," he said. "Governments have tossed up their hands and turned their backs. Workers, communities and many Canadian forest companies continue to pay the price."

Canada's most diverse union, the USW represents more than 280,000 men and women working in every sector of the economy.

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