A new study at St. Thomas University is seeking to interview workers from New Brunswick who commute or do the “fly-in/fly-out” for work outside the province.
Matthew Hayes, a sociologist at St. Thomas University and Canada Research Chair in Global and International Studies, is interested in the experiences of New Brunswick workers in a global economy with an increasingly competitive labour market.
“We are interested in how workers deal with the commute and how they balance their work and life. We are also interested in how the commute affects their families and home communities. How are workers and their families holding it together? Are they?” says Hayes.
Interviews with workers from across New Brunswick have begun and have included various tradespeople working in Fort McMurray, Alberta as well as workers in various kinds of employment in and around resource-based sectors across Canada.
The research project is open to interviewing workers who have different kinds of employment outside the province, workers who have different lengths of stay outside the province, and workers who no longer do the commute.
Workers leaving the province of New Brunswick for work has been a topic of public conversation for some time, since the wave of mill closures in the early 2000s and today with the closure of the Glencore lead smelter in Belledune that employed 420 people.
Paul Landry, a worker at the smelter, told CBC in December that he had returned to his northern New Brunswick home after working eight years in western Canada. He had left the province for work after he lost his job when the paper mill in Dalhousie closed in 2008. With the closure of the Belledune smelter, Landry says he must leave his family and his 91-year-old mother “to find a good job.”
Miramichi is another region of the province hit hard by mill closures and job losses, where many workers have and continue to commute outside the province for work.
In 2005, Miramichi had 60 major employers that provided an income to some 18,000 people. Five years later, Miramichi’s largest employer, the UPM-Kynneme pulp and paper mill had closed, throwing 1,200 people out of work. The mill did not just disappear, 20 other major employers did as well. At the time, more people than ever before in Miramichi were relying on shelters and food banks to survive.
According to economist Sylvain Schetagne, who studied Miramichi as part of his 2010 Communities in Crisis Study for the Canadian Labour Congress: “Workers are doing all they can to cope with the rapid deterioration of the labour market in Miramichi. They are surviving with severance pay, Employment Insurance cheques, short-term training support, insecure and low- paid job opportunities in the region or by travelling daily or weekly in and out of the region for job opportunities in the province or across the country.”
Georges Estey, business manager of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 799, told Schetagne about Miramichi’s commuting workers: “Most of these guys are 50 or under. Some of them are 55 years old. They still have to work and maintain a living as far as I can tell, and they’re all still working. There are no jobs to be had here so I would say the majority of them are still going out west and back again.”
This new research hopes to uncover how New Brunswick workers today are dealing with travelling to work at distances that are sometimes equivalent to cross-Atlantic Ocean trips. Hayes also wants to know how the workers see their partners, children, parents and neighbours coping with their long-distance commute to work.
If you are interested in being interviewed for this research or have questions about this research, please contact Matthew Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the research project’s Facebook page for updates about the research.
Tracy Glynn is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.