Baffinland mum on layoff notice
Northern Affairs Minister Vandal’s rejection of mining company’s emergency order request sets stage for layoffs
Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. has not said when or if it will notify Nunavut’s labour board that it plans to lay off more than 1,300 workers, now that federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal has rejected an emergency order the mining company said it needed to avoid layoffs.
Company spokesperson Peter Akman did not respond to Nunatsiaq News’s questions on Thursday about the status of the layoff notice. CEO Brian Penney also declined an interview request.
On Wednesday, Vandal sent a letter to Baffinland indicating he would not issue an emergency order to increase the iron ore shipping limit at the Mary River mine to six million tonnes from 4.2 million tonnes.
Baffinland said last week it needed that increase to avoid laying off workers after it reaches the lower limit.
In the legislative assembly Thursday, territorial Mines and Economic Development and Transportation Minister David Akeeagok said he had not been informed of any decision to lay off employees has been made yet.
Akeeagok was responding to questions from Tununiq MLA Karen Nutarak, whose riding includes Pond Inlet, the community closest to the Mary River mine.
“Baffinland’s announcement indicates that it may lay off over 1,300 employees … I am very concerned about the potential impact on my constituents,” Nutarak said, asking Akeeagok how the government will work with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association to financially support workers who might be laid off.
If Baffinland decides to lay off employees, Akeeagok said he will work closely with Service Canada to issue employment insurance benefits, the territorial Department of Family Services to help laid-off employees with their career development and QIA if necessary, he said.
“It’s all at the moment hypothetical,” Akeeagok replied, but “if there is a firm date that layoffs are going to happen, our departments are preparing for it … as we never want to see any kind of employment loss to any of our communities.”
Akeeagok said he’s reviewing Vandal’s letter and that his department will be ready to be a part of the review process for Baffinland’s proposed shipping increase.
“I cannot say whether I support it or not because we need to have that due process,” he said.
In an interview with Nunatsiaq News, Akeeagok said he met with Baffinland representatives to discuss the emergency order around the same time the company issued its request to Vandal.
He said he has not yet met with QIA regarding the emergency order.
In his letter, Vandal said his staff would set up a meeting between Baffinland and QIA “to work out existing concerns so that this project remains viable into the foreseeable future.”
That meeting has not been scheduled yet, “but officials are in touch to begin work on logistics,” said Vandal spokesperson Ryan Cotter, who said the minister will not be present in the meetings because he is “a neutral decision-maker.”
Also on Thursday, Akman said that the company expects to have that meeting “as soon as possible and to rapidly address all issues for the benefit of all stakeholders.
“Our goal for these meetings is to reach a mutually beneficial agreement and to continue transporting [six] million tonnes of iron ore in 2022, as we have since 2018.”
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association could not respond to Nunatsiaq News before deadline.
With files from Emma Tranter