Union courts Raglan miners


IQALUIT — Workers at the Raglan mine in Northern Quebec are being wooed by one of country’s most powerful labour unions and could find themselves at the bargaining table with Falconbridge Ltd. by summer’s end.

The prospect of negotiating a collective agreement, however, is making management uneasy and could affect an existing agreement between Inuit workers and Falconbridge’s subsidiary in Nunavik, the Société minière de Raglan du Québec (SMRQ).

“Yes, it is a concern,” Michel Rioux, director of human resources for SMRQ said this week. “We need to go step-by-step.”

More than 50 per cent of workers at the mine have supported the union’s overtures by buying membership cards after a formal request for union accreditation was filed with Quebec’s labour board in April.

The union is also trying to organize employees of two local joint-ventures, Nuvummiut Inc. and Kattiniq Transport, which are joint ventures with northern partners.

Workers to vote?

Rioux criticized the Steelworkers’ recruitment tactics and said he hoped that a vote among the mine’s employees would be taken in July to see if they really want to become unionized.

Riouz said recruiters visited many non-Inuit miners at their homes in the South and may have used undue pressure to convince employees to join.

According to André Tremblay from Quebec’s United Steelworkers’ union branch, le Syndicat des métallos, no vote is required, since more than half of Raglan’s workers have already signed union cards.

Tremblay said it’s common for employers to be scared when unions step in.

“They’re afraid to lose control,” he said.

But even Tremblay acknowledged that some Inuit workers at Raglan are having second thoughts about the union and that several have tried to return their union cards. That’s because they’re worried about how a collective agreement between the Steelworkers and the company will affect their own 1995 Raglan Agreement.

“We fear that Inuit are going to be pushed out of jobs,” Josepi Padlayat, a director of Salluit’s Landholding Corporation and a partner in Kattiniq Transport, said.

Padlayat was among those who met with SMRQ managers last week in Salluit where union activities on the workplace was discussed.

Inuit jobs a priority

The Raglan agreement between Nunavik Inuit and Falconbridge Ltd., gives aboriginal workers priority for jobs at the mine as well as other guarantees and benefits.

According to the union, a collective agreement would only affect hiring practices at the mine when workers are recalled after a period of lay-offs. In these cases, the first workers to be hired back would be those who have the most seniority.

In a recent collective agreement signed between the union and the Placer Dome Mine in northwest Ontario in 1993, First Nations employees were given preference, regardless of seniority, in all hiring, promoting, lay-off and recall practices.

The union also helped negotiate a special work rotations and scheduled absences for First Nations employees.

In a recent submission to the environmental review panel on the Voiseys’ Bay nickel mine project, however, the union pointed out that “if local people aren’t ready to take the jobs, the jobs will go elsewhere.”

Inuit numbers remain low

While Nunavik has been playing catch-up to prepare Inuit for careers in mining, the supply of jobs still exceeds the demand. The number of Inuit willing and qualified to work at the mine is still relatively low and their turnover is high. Only 70 of the approximately 370 employees at Raglan mine are Inuit.

There is some concern that if seniority guarantees are entrenched in a collective agreement at Raglan now, qualified and eager youth from Nunavik seeking jobs in the future might be at a disadvantage.

Union promoters maintain that with Raglan’s anticipated expansion, more jobs will become available, providing enough employment to more than satisfy local demand.

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