Layoff notices sent out to 169 employees in preparation for smelter and refinery shutdown by August

Vale Manitoba Operations has issued layoff notices to 169 hourly employees in preparation for the shutdown of its smelter and refinery, which is scheduled to occur July 31, but how many of those employees actually lose their jobs will depend on how many employees offered an incentive package to retire or resign take the company up on its offer.

I can confirm that 169 hourly employees will have received layoff notices by April 23,” Vale Manitoba Operations manager of corporate affairs and organizational development Ryan Land told the Thompson Citizen in an email. “Their last day of employment will be July 31 as we move towards fully transitioning to a mining and milling operation. All of our salaried (staff) employees also received letters outlining the details of their employment, severance or retirement, but the number of these employees affected by the adjustment remains very small. We have continued to work closely with the Workforce Adjustment Committee to provide supports for those affected, and with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6166 to mitigate the number of employees adversely impacted.”

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In addition, 109 employees have been offered a buyout package by the company, says USW Local 6166 president Les Ellsworth.

For every person that takes an incentive package. they will rescind one letter so they’ll start from the bottom at 169 and work their way back,” he said. “I never know what the uptake is going to be but, as a comparison, the last round, which was just not even a year ago, we had almost a 50 per cent uptake so we’re hoping again. We can’t tell people to retire but we’re hoping for the same thing.”

Although the union president was worried Vale might have as few as 600 employees by the end of 2018, Land said the number will probably be higher than that through the end of this year and into 2019.

Some work will continue into 2019 as we meet our decommissioning and asset retirement obligations, and we expect the number of full time employees to be approximately 850 in 2019,” he said.

And while this will likely be the biggest bunch of layoffs, it won’t be the last set this year.

“We anticipate that we will have two smaller layoff phases inside of the next year,” Land said.

Ellsworth said employees who have been offered buyouts have until May 18 to accept or reject them, so it will be impossible to say before then how many actual job losses will occur, and by the time the number is known, his second term as union president will be over. 

USW Local 6166 is still fighting to see that workers don’t lose their jobs while contractors continue working in the mines.

The local union will do everything they can to ensure that our people stay at work and not be replaced by contractors,” he said.

While the permanent shutdown of the smelter and refinery make the future or mining in Thompson look bleak, Ellsworth said there is good news regarding the price of nickel.

“It was around $7 a pound [April 19] so nickel is still on the rise and expected to be on the rise,” he said, which hopefully will mean that worries about the company shutting down Manitoba Operations entirely should subside.

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