Gov't could have prevented mill closures: union calls for task force

OTTAWA, Sept. 17 /CNW Telbec/ - AbitibiBowater's closure announcements today at six Canadian mills "are disasters of historical proportions for communities that have been a mainstay of the Canadian forest industry," said Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.

The indefinite closures at three Canadian mills and paper machine closures at four other mills affect more than 1,500 CEP members in 11 CEP local unions.

Coles said that union members today are "angry with the company and cynical about their governments."

"These closures were preventable," he said. "The Canadian government had only to put in place a program of loan guarantees for forest companies forced into CCAA protection because of the credit crisis. But clearly, when it comes to our forest industry, nothing is too large to fail, and no economic disaster is too large for government to ignore."

"The governments that have done nothing to prevent this, and that will do nothing today but offer meaningless platitudes about markets, have lost their moral right to govern," said Coles.

The closures are also the "end game of AbitibiBowater's corporate machinations and an attempt to build an empire based on debt," said Coles. "This company exploited the forests to buy up productive companies, but failed to reinvest. Now workers and communities are paying the price."

Coles said that the company will also use CCAA provisions to deny workers tens of thousands of dollars per person in severance pay that is owed and relegate them to the back of a line of creditors. "This is an ultimate humiliation and painful blow inflicted on our members because the Conservative government believes that bankers are more deserving than working Canadians."

"If this government has any decency it will follow the lead of Premier Williams in Newfoundland and pay the severance owing to these workers," he said.

The union is demanding that federal-provincial task forces be established with union participation in each of the communities affected by the closures to ensure that the productive capacity of the closed mills is not destroyed and to look for new, responsible ownership.

"If given half a chance, Canadians will overcome the shock, anger and cynicism left behind by the AbitibiBowater announcements and struggle to rebuild the forest industry," said Coles. "There is no alternative for Canada's forest communities than the sustainable development and value added processing of our primary renewable natural resource."

SOURCE Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada

For further information: For further information: Dave Coles, (613) 299-5628 (cell)

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