The Neucel Specialty Cellulose pulp mill in Port Alice sent its remaining workers home with no written notice and no paycheque.
514 Union President Don Vye spoke to the North Island Gazette in a phone interview March 1, stating that all the employees still working at the pulp mill were told to go home around 1:00 p.m. on Feb. 27.
Vye added it was rather sudden, because he was at the site in the morning talking to the Vice-President of Human Resources, Warren Beatty, “and he mentioned nothing about it.”
According to Vye, “This guy from China who works for Fulida (the company that owns Neucel) gave direction to the HR manager and the mill manager to go tell the employees to go home and that they were not going to get their paycheques.”
Approximately 12 workers, five of which were union members, vacated the premises.
As for what’s going to happen to the property with regards to security and the waste material left over, Vye said that has yet to be determined, but there is an obligation by those in senior management positions, most likely the HR manager and the mill manager, “to contact the Ministry of Environment and deal with it.”
Even though everyone was sent home, the five union members still have recall rights (34 months from March 18, 2018) and are still considered employees of Neucel. All five of those employees who still have recall rights could be due severance pay if permanent closure is announced.
However, “That’s the problem, nobody is answering the question if it’s a permanent closure,” Vye said. He added he has tried contacting the company, but has received no answers yet.
Before the mill went into curtailment back in 2015, Neucel Specialty Cellulose had 320 union members. Of those 320, only five are left now as employees who are eligible for severance pay under the collective agreement, which is primarily due to the company declaring a curtailment instead of a permanent closure.
Neucel makes up 70 per cent of Port Alice’s tax base and still hasn’t paid its taxes, which were due back in July of 2018, totalling around a million dollars.
The mill’s property is the same as any other property when it comes to unpaid taxes.
If the taxes continue to go unpaid, then the current taxes become arrears the following year. If the arrears continue to go unpaid, then they become delinquent the next year. Properties with unpaid delinquent taxes are then sold at a tax sale on the last Monday of September.
It was back in February of 2015 when the pulp mill went into a production curtailment following three consecutive years of unfavourable pulp prices, combined with the high cost of oil, energy consumption and operating chemicals, as well as an unfavourable low US/CAN$ exchange rate.
The mill has remained in curtailment ever since.