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Former Conifex employees invited to apply at new Fort St. James mill; no guarantees

Mill opening in 2022
The new Hampton Lumber sawmill in Fort St. James started to take shape during the winter. (Hampton Lumber Facebook photo)

Hampton Lumber has invited former employees of the Conifex mill in Fort St. James to apply for jobs at the new mill anticipated to open sometime this year, but not everybody is happy about how the company has gone about it.

Kevin Dinwoodie, an electrician, questions why people who were laid off at the time Hampton bought the business from Conifex, have to re-apply for their jobs and if they are not rehired, why they will not receive compensation.

“If you lose your job, generally, most people get severance,” he said. “So it seems like they’re skirting the rule, the labour rules, somehow, that they don’t have to pay severance, and you don’t get your old job back.”

The provincial Labour Code does guarantee B.C. workers one-week severance for each year of employment up to a maximum of eight weeks, but anything beyond that falls under agreements between companies and employees or to the civil courts.

Kristin Rasmussen, Hampton director of public affairs and communications, confirmed former employees would not be automatically reinstated and if not rehired, would not receive compensation.

“Former employees are not eligible for severance as per the collective agreement,” she said.

The terms of that contract expired 24 months following Hampton acquiring the mill in November 2019.

Dinwoodie suggested the company purposely shut the mill down for more than two years to avoid living up to the collective agreement.

But Rasmussen said, given the circumstances, they are lucky to be opening in 2022.

“The old mill was shut down and demolished so that we could build a new one,” she said. “Demolition, design and construction of a new mill takes time under normal circumstances. Given the pandemic and significant supply chain issues, we’re pleased that we were able to remain on track to begin operations this year.”

Dinwoodie has applied for a job, but is not holding his breath that Hampton will hire him back because he has an unspecified condition that prevents him from working graveyard shifts, something that Conifex accommodated previously per the collective agreement.

“So by the union sort of being kicked out, and thus not getting our jobs back, I’m personally, probably never going to get hired by them,” he said.

He is also concerned that if hired back, workers will not retain their previous seniority, something Rasmussen also confirmed.

Seniority expired for all employees who were laid off by Conifex up to a maximum of 24 months after their last day worked,” she said. “All individuals hired will have a seniority start date of ‘day of first hours worked at the new mill’.”

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Thom Barker

About the Author: Thom Barker

After graduating with a geology degree from Carleton University and taking a detour through the high tech business, Thom started his journalism career as a fact-checker for a magazine in Ottawa in 2002.
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