Nunavut miner Baffinland warns workers of layoffs | Polarjournal
Employed until October (Photo: Baffinland)

Faced with the prospect of having half of its workforce with no work to do by early October, Baffinland, the operator of an iron mine in Nunavut, has told 1,100 of its employees that they will be idled if territorial authorities do not grant the company permission to again this year exceed its production limit.

Baffinland’s permit, issued in 2014, allows it to mine 4.2 million tonnes of ore annually from its Mary River mine. In 2018 and again in 2020, it had been granted temporary permits that allowed it to mine 6 million tonnes a year. The company chose not to seek a third temporary in order to avoid problems with an application for a controversial plan to permanently increase production at the Mary River site to 12 million tonnes annually (see video below).

Baffinland had been expecting the federal authorities to issue a decision on that plan last year — and suggested that if permission was not granted, it would likely shut down the mine — and did not expect to need to request a third temporary permit. But, demand for iron has been stronger than expected, and the company, on 26 May, asked federal authorities if they expedite a decision to raise raise its limit this year.

The request was referred to the NIRB, a territorial approving authority. The NIRB says is it is reviewing the request, but warns it is unlikely to meet the 26 August deadline federal officials have set to receive its recommendation if they are to be able to make a decision in time for Baffinland to be able to avoid work stoppages.

In a 31 July letter to employees, Baffinland said the warning that it may need to stop operations was part of “preparatory steps to rescale its operation in the event that it is not successful in renewing its permit”. Workers would be idled in two rounds, the first on 25 September, the second on 11 October. Baffinland said if workers are sent home, they would likely be able to start working in January, when the company is permitted to resume operations.

The company underscores that no work stoppages will be necessary if it the limit is raised this year, but without any certainty that would happen, idling workers was its only response to a situation in which there was “no more work to do”, according to a company spokesperson.

Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal
Featured image: Baffinland

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