Affected employee speaks out about Baffinland layoffs

“My future is totally uncertain”

A German vessel called the Biglift Barentsz approaches Baffinland’s port at Milne Inlet this past August. One employee affected by the recent layoff of over 500 contract employees is speaking out about his frustration. (File photo)

By Emma Tranter

Updated on Dec. 11 at 12:10 p.m.

About 150 kilometres south of Pond Inlet, a camp at Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River mine that once housed over 300 workers is almost empty.

Outside, a new camp, constructed by contract employees at the mine, has started to take shape. But only part of the foundation has been made.

That was in late November. A week before, over 500 contract employees at Mary River received lay-off notices from Baffinland.

“Due to the uncertainty of Phase 2 permit approvals, work associated with the 2019 Work Plan has been demobilized,” Salima Virani, a communications specialist for Baffinland, said in an email to Nunatsiaq News on Nov. 13.

Initially, Baffinland indicated that 96 Inuit contractors had been laid off. But in a letter the company sent on Dec. 6 to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, the company now says that number has been reduced to 48 Inuit workers.

One Inuit contract employees affected by the layoffs recently agreed to speak to Nunatsiaq News on the condition of anonymity, because Baffinland has strict policies about employees speaking to media.

When he spoke in late November, he said only a handful of contract employees were left.

“It was a shock at first,” he said.

“It got a little depressing for a couple of days and I had to evaluate my life. ‘I’m getting laid off, OK, what’s my next step or my options now?’”

The employee has worked in the mining industry for 13 years. He started as a contractor at Mary River just over a year ago as a heavy equipment operator.

The worker said his last day of work at the mine was originally set for Dec. 13, with a return date in early January.

But his layoff notice indicated he had to leave at the end of November, with no date to return.

“We started hearing rumours around September, October. The rumours really started flying around that we might not be able to work next year after New Year’s. We found out for sure right after the public meeting in Iqaluit. That was a signal right there that we weren’t going to come back,” he said.

That meeting in Iqaluit was intended to be the final public hearing held by the Nunavut Impact Review Board from Nov. 2 to Nov. 6 on Baffinland’s phase two expansion of its Mary River mine.

All week, intervenors had gone back and forth on the company’s proposed expansion, including a 110-kilometre rail line north from the Mary River site to its Milne Inlet port. The expansion would allow the company to ramp up its production from the current 6 million tonnes of iron ore per year to 12 million tonnes.

But Inuit groups around the table stated consistently throughout the hearing that they didn’t have enough information from Baffinland to move forward.

“We are concerned that we are going to conclude the public hearing when all things haven’t been finished. The people have to be consulted and have a meaningful discussion. Everyone around the table would like to understand everything that is being presented and how it’s going to affect NTI and organizations,” Aluki Kotierk, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s president, said to a room packed with intervenors and the public on Nov. 6.

Kotierk then brought forward a motion to immediately suspend the final public hearing and defer its continuation for nine months to one year.

The motion received support from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which owns the land on which the Mary River mine operates.

“I think it just boiled down to there’s just too many outstanding questions that haven’t been resolved. From my perspective, if you’re going to make a decision for your future, you’ve got to ensure you have all the information available to make that sound decision. It just wasn’t quite there,” QIA president P.J. Akeeagok told Nunatsiaq News at the time.

For the worker who spoke to Nunatsiaq News and his Inuit colleagues, the adjournment meant they were out of a job.

“Once we heard, pretty much all of us got pissed off more or less. And some of us don’t have too many options,” he said.

The worker said most of the Inuit contract employees at Mary River were from the North Baffin communities: Pond Inlet, Igloolik, Hall Beach, Clyde River and Arctic Bay.

“Pretty much all of us were pissed off at NTI, QIA, NIRB. All those Inuit organizations that are supposed to be helping us but instead got us all laid off,” he said.

The worker said he wished Baffinland had sent an employee representative to the public hearing.

“They should have sent an Inuit representative that actually works here at the mine to have a say at the table. Our input should have been told. They should have at least warned us or given us a chance to see how we feel. We were completely taken out of the equation,” he said.

He also said he hopes the Inuit organizations will offer compensation to Inuit affected by the layoffs.

Recently, the Government of Nunavut and Service Canada offered employment insurance information sessions to people laid off from the mine.

Nunatsiaq News reached out to both QIA and NTI to respond to the worker’s comments.

QIA said it is preparing for next steps after its team recently visited Pond Inlet to meet with “Inuit directly impacted by employment loss and local leadership.”

But the future of the mine’s phase two expansion plans are still up in the air. Baffinland has proposed to resume the hearing in April 2020, while QIA and NTI support a year-long adjournment. The NIRB has yet to rule on the length of the adjournment.

“Currently, QIA is seeking a decision from the Nunavut Impact Review Board on the future process for the Phase II environmental assessment, and, clarity from Baffinland on their intended plans” QIA said in an emailed statement.

“QIA will continue its work to advocate for all Inuit rights with particular attention given to environmental management, community engagement, harvesting, employment and training opportunities, contracting, and the delivery of existing funds for direct community benefits under the current Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement,” QIA said.

NTI is also waiting to hear how the NIRB will rule on the length of the adjournment.

“NTI continues to support the Mary River project. NTI does not oppose the principle of potential mine expansion but is concerned that it must be done in a manner which properly respects the balance between the benefits from such development and the environmental and cultural impacts. That is not possible in the process for this public hearing as it had unfolded over the five days,” NTI said in an emailed statement.

NTI did not comment on whether or not it had reached out to Inuit affected by the layoffs.

Back at Mary River, the laid-off worker is preparing to leave Mary River for what he wonders may be the last time.

“I love my job up here. I got a great boss, great workers. But my future is totally uncertain—what I’m going to do, where I’m going to get a job, especially before the holidays too.”

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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by james on

    after the shipping season ends they always layoff workers it’s the not first time it happens every year they are just trying to make a big deal out of it because phase 2 is on hold

  2. Posted by General Mills on

    james, I’m pretty sure if you’re on of the Inuit workers who’ve lost their jobs or their families, this qualifies as a big deal.

    • Posted by Specific Mills on

      For poster above, I guess it’s only a big deal if you lost your job if you’re Inuit.

  3. Posted by worker on

    Out of a Nunavut job force of about 20,000 about 500 people lost their jobs just before Christmas. All resource jobs will have some negative environmental impact, but in a economically depressed region you have to balance that against economic opportunities.

    • Posted by That’s Where You’re Wrong on

      Saying “Nunavut job force” implies these 500 workers are all residents of Nunavut, when about 80% of them are not.

  4. Posted by geena on

    #1 is right. Appropriately lobbied article.

    • Posted by Sadude on

      It is a pretty deal for all the people laid off. Inuit & non-Inuit alike. Layoffs affect the entire family. I know what it feels like. There is no joy in it whatsoever. Especially when u live in small NU communities where there are so few jobs avail. I wish all affected only good luck & health going forward. Stay positive.

  5. Posted by Tommy on

    “Everyone around the table would like to understand everything that is being presented and how it’s going to affect NTI and organizations,” Aluki Kotierk, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s president, said.

    Aluki is only concerned about NTI and it’s organizations, not the beneficiaries. The previledged communities of the IIBA are the ones most affected by this stalemate. NTI does not want to represent the Nunavut Inuit as a whole, they just want to exert their resources to a select few at the expense of the beneficiaries’ Nunavut Trust.

    • Posted by oh ima on

      The only groups really opposed are the ones that hire non Inuit consultants, bleeding heart liberals that think Inuit need to be rescued. These folks never faced poverty, NTI and QIA never probably face poverty like most Inuit have so they are so out of touch from their members. Follow Inuit money and you’ll see it goes to consultants that fuel tension or create false tension to keep working and how stupid are Inuit leaders to see that?

      • Posted by Inked on

        Your comment is excessively cynical, to the point where it is not informative, only incendiary. Such a sad waste of cyber ink.

  6. Posted by Steve L on

    The government and stake holders need to realize that projects on this scale need to be developed from putting shovels in the ground right through to site cleanup and remediation. The piecemeal approach to development is unwise. Baffinland (and others) should have outlined every step of the plan and the government should have anticipated future requirements.
    Its easy for those in board rooms to make decisions that affect the livelihood of local residents and communities affected. Its easy to write pink slips, not so easy to get one.
    And don’t change the rules as you go. Something about changing horses midstream.

    • Posted by Considering on

      Just because you weren’t paying attention doesn’t mean this isn’t exactly what happened.

  7. Posted by Amiitturmiut on

    In the beginning Baffinland knew what they were getting into when they started the mine long after nunavut land claims agreement was signed, well maybe all the mines, they were weary about starting in nunavut because of the land claims agreement, NTI,QIA, KIA are sirnaartit for our land our people & they are doing that for everyone to have safe water, land,
    you see posts about Baffinland areas where you can’t get fresh water or even fish at an area near Baffinland
    But at the same time why put the workers jobs out, they should be working while paperwork is being done

  8. Posted by Putuguk on

    Amiitturmuit – mining companies are not weary about the Nunavut Agreement at all. It is seen as a very good thing. It answers big questions like who owns the land, how do you get a project permitted, how do you work with Inuit.

    In this way, it makes doing business up here cut and dried. If a mine were built on land whose ownership was in doubt for example, you could think of the great troubles and risks for a company doing that. But the Nunavut Agreement says If you do A – B will follow, and so on which solves all this.

    The problems begin when the way things are meant to be done as stated in the Nunavut Agreement do not work as people thought they would. Like for example an environmental review that stops in the middle just because a party asked for it to be so, or Inuit not being satisfied after their organization has finished negotiating on their behalf.

    Going back to the big questions the Nunavut Agreement answers, let us review. Is it understood who owns that land? Yes, at least that still stands. Is it understood how to get a project permitted? No, not really at this point. Is it understood how to work with Inuit? No.

    If there are any groups that may be weary of the Nunavut Agreement, it could be the Inuit Orgs themselves.

  9. Posted by Northerner on

    Just an FYI. All contracts were expiring this month (Big contract is with QIL). It’s only big news because phase two didn’t go ahead. Baffinland is just playing victim. So to take it out on NTI and QIA shouldn’t be even an option. You should take it out on the big wigs of Baffinland and their puppets. This is not QIA, NTI or NIRB fault and you should really blame it on baffinland for their sloppy work!

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