January 10, 2014 7:38 pm
Updated: January 11, 2014 1:07 pm

Union, government react to Evraz layoff notice

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REGINA – It’s a big blow to Saskatchewan’s manufacturing industry.

In one fell swoop, 80 per cent of Evraz Regina’s tubular division could be out of a job, effective Jan. 20.

“We were quite surprised,” said Sonny Rioux, a United Steelworkers Local 5890 staff representative. “We had crews working right through the holiday to New Year’s in full production.”

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The indefinite layoff notice for roughly 420 employees follows PotashCorp cuts in December, when 440 people were laid off. The company said demand was sluggish.

Rioux says the Evraz layoff is unlike any he has seen before.

“(Previous layoffs) have always involved major breakdowns, which are shorter term, or production issues where they don’t have orders,” Rioux said. “This is not the case.”

Evraz declined an interview request from Global News, but said in a statement, “Due to recent rail-related logistics challenges, we may need to temporarily suspend production at the spiral mill while we work to move out the abundance of pipe orders on the ground.”

It’s a similar problem facing farmers in Saskatchewan, with a 40 per cent drop in delivery of grain due, in part, to busy rail lines.

“It’s not that they don’t have enough work,” said Tim McMillan, Minister of Energy & Resources. “It’s not that their raw material supply is drying up. Their problem is they can’t get their products to market effectively.”

It’s not all bad news, as McMillan points to improved job numbers overall in the province.

Numbers from the government show 8,100 new, full-time jobs were created since December 2012, while Saskatchewan has the lowest unemployment rate in Canada.

The key to mitigating job losses in manufacturing, McMillan says, is diversification.

“We used to be very focused on very narrow sectors,” he said. “Today we see such a broad-based economy. When we have challenges in one or two sectors, the others pick up the slack.”

Through working with the rail companies, Evraz is optimistic production will resume in the next two weeks, therefore limiting job losses, with the hope this layoff notice will only serve as a precaution.

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