The United Steelworkers Local 4-125 was hoping Tuesday’s layoff of 36 employees at Mount Polley Mine would have been later rather than sooner.
“We have been very nervous that the layoffs would be coming for awhile,” said union president Paul French. “Work out there is basically dwindling down and I think Imperial Metals has to be commended for keeping people working as long as they have.”
According to the union’s secretary treasurer Bob Macnair, following the tailings breach on Aug. 4, 34 underground workers were laid off immediately, along with some contractors and summer students.
While the union isn’t happy about the layoffs, French said it has been expecting them so to help members who have lost their jobs, the union has contacted the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, to generate retraining packages.
“For guys who have been laid off, it can be a bureaucratic nightmare to fill out the papers,” French said, adding the union has also inquired with other mines and mills to see if there any job openings for effected members.
Since the tailings storage facility breach, workers at the mine have been uneasy, not knowing if it’s going to be their last shift or not.
“The damage to Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake is the biggest concern for everybody,” French said. “They need to be taken care of and in my opinion they will be.”
But there’s also the big concern of the workers and the economic impacts.
The question looms whether the layoffs are short-term or permanent.
French said the small town of Likely would have felt the economic impacts from the breach right away, but because Williams Lake is bigger the immediate impacts were absorbed.
That will change now that more layoffs are happening, the community will feel it more, he said.
“We understand there’s a possibility of them being able to reopen the mine sooner or later by diverting the tailings into another pit to let it run,” French said. “We believe they should be able to do that because it generates revenue and can keep the employees working, plus give the company money to be able to do the restoration and cleanup of the disaster. That’s been our position since day one.”
And it’s not for selfish reasons, he added.
The bottom line is people with families are employed there.
French said the union cannot comment on why the disaster occurred in the first place until the answers emerge from the investigations.
“He said, she said, is easy to do, but for what really happened and what comes out of it is going to be key,” French said. “I’m very hopeful, but I’m scared if the results don’t come back until January, how long will it be before the company can start doing the recommendations that are in the reports.”