Baffinland continues measures to keep COVID-19 out of Nunavut
“We feel the measures we have are effective”
All Nunavut-based workers at Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s Mary River iron mine site are now back home, says Udloriak Hanson, the company’s vice-president for community and strategic development.
“Our first priority was to get everyone home,” Hanson said on Thursday, March 26.
On March 16, Baffinland temporarily instructed all Nunavummiut—about 300, Hanson said—not to report for work at the mine and to remain in their home communities. Others are now back home, too, she said.
They would suffer no loss of pay, seniority or job security, the company said, adding that they would review the entire situation again in two weeks.
Hanson said Baffinland’s second priority was to institute more preventive measures for those coming from the south.
Now, when workers come to the mine site via chartered jet, the aircraft only stop for fuel, in Rankin Inlet or in Iqaluit, and the workers remain on board.
Measures to restrict travel into the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have not affected the mine’s southern work force from flying in because mine workers were deemed essential workers by the territories.
But Baffinland is putting in longer rotations for its workers, who will remain on-site for four weeks instead of two. This will also reduce the number of flights needed, Hanson said.
There are about 650 employees still on-site, she said, and everyone is feeling the loss of their Inuit coworkers.
“We feel the pain: they are essential to all operations,” she said, “But it’s worth it to us to not contribute to any higher risk of infection in the communities. We’re using everything in our power to make sure we’re reducing that risk.”
At the same time, screening for all incoming southern workers has been beefed up.
If they show any signs of symptoms, they are not allowed to fly.
And if they’re not comfortable heading to the mine for any reason, she said it’s their right not to.
“Their job will not be affected and they will still have their job and seniority after this is all over,” she said.
On the mine site, equipment operators practise daily sanitation of shared equipment, among other preventive measures.
The many other additional measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 include lots of sanitizers and pre-packaged food.
“Everyone is practising social distancing,” Hanson said.
That now includes limiting the numbers at the cafeteria at any one time.
“It’s a major adjustment for everyone at this time,” she said.
A slight dip in production has taken place, she said, but Baffinland is not considering reducing its operations as Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. has done at its Nunavut gold mines as a result of Quebec’s COVID-19 restrictions.
And putting Mary River into care and maintenance, as the Raglan mine was obliged to do by Quebec, is not currently being considered, Hanson said.
“We feel the measures we have are effective,” she said.