New workplan developed to fix flagging Inuit job numbers at iron mine

Inuit employment rate at Baffinland’s Mary River mine dwindles to 12 per cent


In a new 2017 work plan commits QIA and Baffinland to working together to increase Inuit employment at the Mary River mine in North Baffin. (FILE PHOTO)

In a new 2017 work plan commits QIA and Baffinland to working together to increase Inuit employment at the Mary River mine in North Baffin. (FILE PHOTO)

As the Inuit employment rate continues to fall at the Mary River iron mine, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. say an annual work plan approved this week promises better resources for training and hiring local workers.

The plan, mentioned in a May 14 QIA media release, addresses employment goals that have never materialized since the partners signed their original Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement in 2013, which has since funnelled more than $40 million dollars into QIA coffers.

But as the money has rolled in, Inuit employment rates have declined steadily—falling far short of the 25 per cent minimum Inuit employment target promised in 2016.

Currently, that number sits at 12 per cent, down from 16.7 per cent reported in the first half of 2016 and 20.3 per cent reported in 2014.

The new IIBA work plan will complete proposed strategies and plans for Inuit labour, Inuit training and procurement, the QIA news release said.

The plan will also develop and complete workplace condition surveys, as well as reboot the Work Readiness Program for Inuit interested in working at the mine.

That’s an important step following the death of a Mary River employee who was killed on the job in 2015.

The QIA’s community director, Levi Barnabas, and Baffinland’s vice president of sustainable development, Todd Burlingame, are charged with overseeing the implementation of the 2017 work plan.

They will report directly to QIA President PJ Akeeagok and Baffinland’s chief executive director, Brian Penney.

The blame game between the two partners has ramped up in light of Baffinland’s Phase II Mary River proposal, which will significantly increase the mine’s operations even as the global demand for iron ore dwindles.

The QIA slammed Baffinland for not living up to its IIBA promises and withholding millions of dollars earmarked for Inuit training, during a three-year review presented at the association’s annual general meeting last October.

But Baffinland shot back shortly after, lambasting the association for not disclosing the report to them before making it public and speaking to media.

Burlingame—who will oversee the current 2017 IIBA work plan—told Nunatsiaq News at the time that the training money had always been available but the committee responsible for spending it never did so.

Barnabas, the QIA’s point-man for the work plan, told Nunatsiaq News in May that there are many reasons Inuit fail to stay working at the mine.

Those reasons include shift work, which places added stress on families with members working at the mine, seasonal quitting for spring hunting season and rotating contractors at the mine who lay off their Inuit workers when contracts expire.

An overly complex job application process is also hindering Inuit recruitment.

Barnabas said culture and language conflicts at the mine are not a major factor in Inuit employment since most Inuit workers have accepted English as the language of commerce at the mine.

“English is being used for safety reasons. There’s multicultural people there—there’s French, there’s Inuit, there’s Qallunaaqs. I think it’s not an issue anymore, people understand the need to speak English. I think people are understanding why,” Barnabas said at the time.

The new work plan was drafted prior to an annual project review of the mine between QIA and Baffinland officials held in Arctic Bay May 9 and May 10.

Community participants polled at the Arctic Bay meetings will have their concerns over the mine addressed in a joint QIA and Baffinland response that will include strategies and recommendations for each issue.

Those responses are scheduled to be released publicly, within 90-days of the meeting.

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