Major CWB layoffs underway

-- Three-quarters of staff to be let go -- Ex-employees will fare well: expert

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More than three-quarters -- roughly 300 -- of the Canadian Wheat Board's head-office staff in Winnipeg will lose their jobs as the grain-handling agency adjusts to life in the new post-monopoly era.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/05/2012 (3860 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

More than three-quarters — roughly 300 — of the Canadian Wheat Board’s head-office staff in Winnipeg will lose their jobs as the grain-handling agency adjusts to life in the new post-monopoly era.

CWB spokesperson Maureen Fitzhenry confirmed Tuesday the agency expects to have about 100 workers left when the dust settles early next year. That compares to 430 it had at the start of last year.

The dramatic downsizing that’s already well underway will also leave the board with a largely vacant eight-storey office building by early next year.

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Fitzhenry said it will only need about one and a half floors in its eight-storey office building at 423 Main St. So it will have to decide, likely within the next few months, whether it wants to keep the building and try to rent out the other six and a half floors or sell it and lease back the space it needs from the new owner.

The CWB began whittling back its staff last December, after the federal Conservatives passed new legislation ending its long-standing monopoly and creating an open market for wheat and barley in Canada, effective Aug. 1.

By that time, its staff of 430 had shrunk to 404 after some employees left on their own, and their positions weren’t filled. And since the start of December, another 118 workers have been given their walking papers, including 26 last week. Those 26 will be gone by the end of the month, leaving 288.

Fitzhenry said the job terminations will continue on a monthly basis until early next year, as more and more of the board’s operations are either scaled back or eliminated.

The good news, according to one local human resources specialist, is most of the CWB workers should find new jobs fairly quickly. Especially logistics, accounting, marketing and information technology specialists.

“It’s a very good market right now in those areas,” said Barbara Bowes, president of Legacy Bowes Group, a Winnipeg HR and executive search firm. “People are calling in all the time looking for them. They’ll be absorbed so quickly they won’t even be able to blink.”

Bowes said the CWB has been pro-active in helping employees with career planning and resume writing.

“I really admire how they’ve handled it. They were very open and very honest and prepared their employees ahead of time,” Bowes said.

Fitzhenry said morale among the remaining workers remains good, all things considered.

“They’re very professional, and everyone seems to be doing the job they need to do. And the vast majority of our employees are highly skilled and experienced, so there is a lot of optimism about re-employment.”

With its marketing monopoly coming to an end, the CWB is having to convince as many Prairie farmers as possible to let it continue marketing their wheat and barley grain on their behalf, rather than them selling it directly to the country’s grain companies.

But to do that, it also has to get the grain companies to agree to handle the grain it gets from its farm customers. It’s already negotiated grain-handling agreements with two of them — Cargill and South West Terminal. And Fitzhenry said it’s close to reaching deals with most of the others, including industry leaders Richardson International and Viterra Inc.

“We expect we’ll have deals with all of the grain handling companies in the next few weeks,” she added.

She wouldn’t say how many Prairie farmers have already signed up to have their grain marketed through the board. She said many are waiting for agreements with the grain companies that own elevators in their area.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

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