GM to retrain employees affected by Oshawa plant closure

General Motors of Canada Co. is working to set up jobs and training programs for employees who will be put out of work when it closes the Oshawa Assembly plant next year, even as Unifor promises an extended fight to keep the operation open.

In addition, GM estimates about half of the 3,000 unionized and salaried employees are eligible to retire under the company’s defined benefit pension plan — leaving about 1,500 who will want to transition to new occupations.

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GM Canada vice-president David Paterson said the company is committed to spending millions of dollars to ensure its employees get the retraining they require, with an initial estimate of between $5 million and $10 million, but the exact amount will depend on what other employers provide.

“What we want to do is to assure employees that their training will be taken care of. We’ll make sure that there’s enough money to do that,” said Paterson.

GM Canada says Durham College will also establish a confidential internet portal in the new year to help auto workers identify job openings and begin plans to take retraining courses offered by a consortium of colleges.

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Unifor president Jerry Dias said in an interview that the training commitment is just a distraction from the company’s lack of commitment to Canada. “All of these announcements that General Motors is making about retraining, they’re trying to hide the fact that they’re a terrible corporate citizen.”

GM says it will be discussing further benefits packages for employees with the union, but Dias said the focus is entirely on saving Oshawa. 

Paterson said GM recognizes that the union has voiced “some strong opinions,” but thinks it would be good for employees if they have time to plan for their future. “We have an obligation and duty to work with our union to determine — in addition to our pensions and the income supplements our employees will get — what things we can provide,” he said.

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