First, when I was in Val Marie a couple of weeks back, having lunch in the hotel "dining room" three guys wandered in for a beer and a bite.I thought they were a curious trio, obviously not locals and a few miles off the beaten track to be tourists they were, as it turned out, Newfoundlanders working in Frontier about 70 km west of there. About 13 km west of Climax to be concise.
"You boys are a long way from home." I said, and asked what brought them to Saskatchewan.
Things are tough in Newfoundland since the fishery closed down they told us. The small town they are from has virtually no jobs but they were reluctant to pull up stakes and leave the family home. They had tried Fort McMurry and didn't like the raw atmosphere of the place, so quit.
They had been hired by an Ontario recruiter to work as assembly line workers at Honeybee, a farm implements manufacturer in Frontier who flies them home to Newfoundland for two weeks off, every seven weeks.
What a shift in lifestyle, from a Newfoundland outport to a small prairie village. It can't be easy.
What is it about the work that is so unappealing that Saskatchewan residents won't take the jobs?
The second odd situation is in the trucking industry.
Trucking companies are having a hell of a time getting, and keeping drivers. There are several factors at play here. Driving truck is a tough job. The work is solitary, the food is bad and the pay is worse. Drivers mostly get paid by the mile so generally drivers are only making money when the wheels are turning. If they get caught in a snow storm, have to wait a couple of days in some god forsaken place for they next load or if road construction slows them to a snails pace they are not often not making enough to cover the cost of their meals. If they are earning any money at all.
A large portion of the workforce is closing in on retirement and young men and women are not exactly lining up at the door, looking for a career driving a semi. Virtually every trucking company there is are looking for drivers.
A lot could and should be done to improve the lot of Canadian truck drivers' wages, working conditions and general quality of life but that would take a concerted effort and cooperation involving, the trucking companies, the unions, the manufacturing industry who are doing the shipping and governments.
Unfortunately for Canadian drivers, in a move which looks very much like collusion, instead of doing that, they have decided that instead of tackling the worklife problem, the best sloution is to bring in foreign drivers to fill the void. It started with drivers from the UK but, many of them got fed up and went home so the latest batch of drivers are from the Ukraine, Indonesia and Mexico.
Little is done by the employers to help them to integrate into the existing workforce, setting them apart and making it difficult for them to fit in. Driving conditions are quite different that what they are used to and many of them have never seen snow, not to mention drive in it.. For many it will be a very tough winter. Cranking down a set of dollies at minus 40 can be tough enough for someone born on the prairies but for a person who, up until now has lived their life in Veracruz?
Like I said. No easy answers but, lots of question about where we are going.