THOMPSON, Man. — Vale Canada Ltd. is confirming that operations will be suspended at a nickel mine in Thompson, Man.
Earlier on Tuesday, the United Steelworkers union announced the Birchtree Mine would be shifting to “care and maintenance” and will no longer produce nickel starting Oct. 1.
The union says that will result in the layoff of 150 workers at the mine.
Vale Canada confirms that number in a news release and adds another 50 jobs in downstream processing, service and support functions will also be affected.
Vale says it will do all that it can to mitigate the number of people adversely affected.
Les Ellsworth, president of Local 6166, tells CTV News the news came as a shock.
He says workers knew nickel prices have been the lowest they’ve been in history, but were surprised to learn it was the Manitoba division of Vale’s management that made the request to put the mine into care and maintenance.
Ellsworth says the decision will be tough on families.
“People are scared,” he says. “There are no other jobs they are going to get in town. If they were, they are going to be low-paying jobs that would not support their families. They’ve bought homes, they’ve bought vehicles based on these high-paying jobs, so it would be very difficult for them.”
Mark Scott, vice-president of Manitoba operations, says the mine and its employees have been an important part of Vale’s work in the province for the last 60 years.
“The mine has been especially challenged over the past several quarters as it nears the end of its life of mine plan, and in light of the prolonged downturn in the nickel price cycle,” he says.
Ellsworth says the union is gearing up for a fight.
“The union’s position is that no contractor will be on Vale site as long as there’s members’ jobs at stake,” he says. “We have 1,100 members at Vale’s operations in Thompson. Before Vale lays off one member of the union, the contractors must be removed first.”
Ellsworth says the collective agreement is in force until Sept. 19, 2019.