Nunavik women say family demands keep them from jobs at mines
“They want to make sure that their children are cared for”
KUUJJUAQ — Consultations with Inuit women across Nunavik earlier this year found that — not surprisingly — they face the same barriers to seeking and securing employment in the mining sector as other Aboriginal women around the world.
And one of those challenges is balancing work with home and family life in a job that demands that workers be away from home for extended periods of time.
Over the last year, the Kativik Regional Government has worked alongside the region’s Kautaapikkut mining roundtable, a body launched last year to encourage Inuit employment in Nunavik’s mines and more specifically, to look at the under-employment of women.
Together men and women make up 15 per cent of all Nunavimmiut working at the region’s two mines.
But fewer than half of all Inuit working at the region’s two operating mines are women; about 44 per cent at Glencore Raglan’s nickel operation, and about 20 per cent at Canadian Royalties’ Nunavik Nickel.
Cynthia Cookie-Simard, an Inuit employment and training officer with Canadian Royalties, travelled through Nunavik last winter to meet with Inuit women.
She and colleagues in the mining industry asked women what keeps them from working at the mines, Cookie-Simard told the KRG regional councillors meeting in Kuujjuaq Sept. 15.
“The main barrier that came up… was the importance of family and children, and the need to stay at home,” she said. “They want to make sure that their children are cared for. They want to be with their family and their spouse.”
With a two-week on, two-week off schedule, parents must struggle to maintain a stable home life which often involves finding childcare, and sometimes after-hours care.
Rob Nixon, who chairs the Kautaapikkut roundtable, said the group has looked at best practices in mines around the world that employ Indigenous women.
Regarding conditions at mines in Australia, Alaska and elsewhere in Canada, women had identified childcare and what they called a lack of flexible scheduling as a major barrier to employment, he said.
Mining companies have adapted their policies and some Australian mines have opened on-site daycares, Nixon noted.
But in Quebec, legislation prevents mine sites from having residents under the age of 18.
The mining roundtable is considering other options as well, he said, such as job-sharing, which could allow mothers to leave home for shorter periods of time.
“We’re already seeing a commitment by these mines [because] hiring women is a key priority,” Nixon said. “We’re on track for identifying the things we want to accomplish, but there’s still work to do.”
Siasi Kanarjuak, a recruitment supervisor at Glencore’s Raglan mine, said women who haven’t had experience working in the mining sector don’t know what kinds of jobs are available to them, and could benefit from seeing examples of women who’ve been promoted to more senior positions at the mine.
Women who have experience working on site reported not feeling entirely comfortable in a predominantly Qallunaat environment which does little to support Inuit culture.
“We often see people not coming back because of racism [they’ve encountered],” Kanarjuak said.
Mines have started to respond to this concern, by providing cultural awareness training to all staff and by allotting space to Inuit staff for activities like cooking and sewing.
Last year, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada released the results of its own research into the impact of mining on Inuit women and families in Baker Lake, since the opening of the nearby Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank gold mine.
While the report noted the mine has spurred an increase in the number of women in the workforce, it also highlighted an increase in family stress, strains on couples and parent-child relationships.
In Nunavik, Kautaapikkut roundtable members are using their findings to develop an action plan, with community partners, with the goal of encouraging more Inuit women to apply for mining jobs.
The mining sector is now the largest employer in the region, employing 1,400 people, though the majority of those live outside Nunavik.