Martinrea executives deride pandemic travel restrictions

by Anita Balakrishnan THE CANADIAN PRESS

Frustrations stemming from COVID-19 travel restrictions boiled over during a conference call Thursday when top executives at auto parts manufacturer Martinrea derided the health measures, saying it’s “time to move on” and recognize the “good things happening,” despite employee deaths from the novel coronavirus.

“Everything is getting better, except for the government policy that we’re seeing. It is just absolutely outrageous,” said chief financial officer Fred Di Tosto, on the call.

“We’re seeing tremendous opening in the United States, in a lot of different places…it’s time to move on. There are good things happening, and we’ve got to recognize that.”

When asked by an analyst about the “drag” on business caused by the acquisition of a company called Metalsa in March 2020, chief financial officer Fred Di Tosto said travel restrictions and “chaos at the border” have limited the work that Martinrea could do on the plants abroad, calling the 14-day quarantines and hotel quarantine policies “an incredible pain for our industry.”

At the time of the acquisition, Metalsa had locations in the United States, Mexico, Germany, South Africa and China.

Employee deaths

Martinrea’s executive chairman, Rob Wildeboer, said earlier in the call that there has been no in-plant transmission of COVID-19 within the company, although some employees in Mexico died from community transmission of the novel coronavirus, and that other employees had lost loved ones.

“Not only must our people be safe, but they must feel safe. They must know that we have their interest at heart,” said Wildeboer on the conference call, adding that the company made 70,000 ventilator stands during the pandemic.

“Many of our people have stated they feel safer at work than any place other than home.”

Clarification of statements

Deanna Lorincz, global director of communications and marketing at Martinrea, said Friday that Di Tosto meant “it is time to move on, lessen the restrictions on the border and continue to open up the economy.”

Lorincz also clarified comments from chief executive Pat D’Eramo, who said on the call it has been a “headache” getting employees back and forth to Germany, saying that the hotel quarantines cause workers “stress” and “anxiety.” Lorincz said D’Eramo was referencing the need to “travel internationally to get the new plant in Germany online to the way we run things.”

“It’s been a challenge with the pandemic but we are hopeful we will start seeing progress,” said Lorincz in a statement. “We have the right people lined up and some are there now. It is just getting them back and forth has been a challenge with the restrictions and not knowing if employees will have to quarantine in a hotel away from their families.”

Martinrea’s home base of Ontario has been slowly loosening COVID-19 restrictions over the past month, with 1,250 new COVID-19 cases reported on Friday, down from more than 3,000 per day reported in mid January.

In late January the federal government announced it would suspend all flights to and from Mexico until April 30, and would require a three-night hotel quarantine for travellers arriving in Canada, “to prevent further introduction and transmission of COVID-19 and new variants of the virus into Canada.”

“With the challenges we currently face with COVID-19, both here at home and abroad, we all agree that now is just not the time to be flying,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in January when announcing the new restrictions.

After the government announced the new travel restrictions, the National Airlines Council of Canada noted that international arrivals were already down between 90 per cent and 95 per cent in January, compared with the previous year.

“Countries that successfully implement a science-based and data-based testing and quarantine policy will not only protect public health but also drive their overall domestic recovery, and take market share, investment and jobs from those countries that do not,” the NACC said in a February statement.

The comments from Martinrea executives come after Linda Hasenfratz, chief executive of rival parts maker Linamar, resigned as a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution Task Force in late January, after it was brought to Premier Doug Ford’s attention that she travelled outside the country in December.