Raglan’s rocky record of Inuit employment
Only 17 per cent of the Raglan mine’s workforce are Inuit, most of them employed as unskilled menial labourers.
SALLUIT — While complaints from Inuit workers over discrimination at Nunavik’s Raglan nickel mine are nothing new, a troubling allegation of sexual harassment has surfaced at the site.
A male Inuk employee recently lodged an official complaint over unwanted sexual advances from a non-Inuit male co-worker.
The complainant said his genitals were fondled by the man on several different occasions. The co-worker also telephoned him repeatedly in his room saying, “I like Inuit lovers.”
“We’re in the process of investigating this report of harassment in the workplace,” said Barbara Papigatuk, senior Inuit relations advisor for the Soci�t� mini�re de Raglan, the subsidiary of mining giant Falconbridge Ltd. that oversees operations at the site.
“It is the first investigation of this magnitude.”
Papigatuk said an outside investigator was called in to look at the complaint and make recommendations on how to deal with it.
A “respect committee” already exists to investigate reports of harassment, racism and discrimination on site.
In the past, many Inuit employees have complained about being stuck in low-level jobs and prejudiced in the workplace. Some Inuit even considered calling a strike to draw attention to their grievances.
Inuit comprise only about 17 per cent of the total permanent workforce at Raglan. Turnover, even among trained and well-employed Inuit employees, has been high.
A handful of Inuit are employed as mine technicians, in clerical jobs, and in the human resource department. Some are heavy equipment operators and underground miners, but the largest numbers of Inuit are employed as housekeepers, labourers and dishwashers.
Only one unilingual Inuk works for the SMRQ, a janitor at the loading and storage facility at Deception Bay.
Papigatuk said training and employment programs are now being designed to prepare Inuit for more than just entry-level or unskilled jobs. This is a “big shift” in focus, Papigatuk said.
The SMRQ and the Kativik Employment and Training Department are mid-way through a five-year, $4 million government-funded program to train Inuit for jobs at the mine, which has a life-span of at least 20 more years.
Although Papigatuk credits efforts to train Inuit during the construction phase with “astronomical success,” training has run less smoothly since the mine entered production two and a half years ago.
The SMRQ wanted to see more on-the-job training programs on the site, because management said off-site courses weren’t always up-to-scratch.
But a plan to train mill operators on site flopped. It’s since been replaced by a new training course at Inukjuak’s Nunavimmi Pigiursavik Technical and Vocational Centre.
Paul Okituk, who looks after Raglan employment and training for the KRG, wonders whether Inuit will ever attain the “meaningful participation” at the mine that was the 1995 Raglan Agreement promised.
“We seem to go in circles,” Okituk said. “We have 20 more years with these people. I hope things will start to look up for the company as well as for our people. The reason they entered into the Raglan Agreement was to reach a “win-win” situation. I still hope we will be able to achieve this.”