Immediately after announcing the shutdown of its Midway mill, Vaagen Fibre Canada laid off 35 employees.
Since then, it has continued to operate the mill as it clears out its inventory — a process that Dan Macmaster, the company’s fibre supply manager, expects will take them into early February.
Once the rest of the mill’s fibre runs out, its “50 or so” employees that remain will also be out of work.
The company’s leadership has been in contact with Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell to discuss ways to support the company’s laid-off employees and what might trigger the mill’s re-opening.
Both parties agree that the problem has short-term and long-term dimensions that need to be considered.
“The short-term objective, of course, is supporting the families of the workers who were laid off,” Russell said. “The long-term problem requires us to ask ‘what kind of changes does the industry need to make these jobs sustainable?’”
All employees laid off by Vaagen Fibre have been offered severance packages and the company says it is working to help its employees either find new positions or get training to prepare them for their futures.
According to Dan Macmaster, the company’s fibre supply manager, Community Futures was on site during Vaagen Fibre’s shutdown announcement. The business development organization is able to support workers with job placement, training, and certification.
Vaagen Fibre has maintained that the current shutdown is due to an inability to access wood fibre at an efficient price. A long-term solution to the mill’s shutdown would require significant changes to the milling industry’s current structure.
Conversations about modernizing the milling industry to help it withstand shutdowns have been ongoing between industry leaders and members of the legislative assembly.
On Jan. 19, the province announced a $50 million investment in the Forestry Enhancement Society of BC “to increase fibre supply aimed at keeping people working and local mills running.”
The new funding will provide support for projects and programs that increase the use of low-value or residual fibre, including trees damaged by recent wildfires and waste left over from logging. Because these fibres would otherwise be burned in slash piles, the move is both an economic and environmental one.