Out-of-province contractors may come to Thompson without self-isolating to do Vale shutdown work

Some out-of-province contractors could come to work at Vale’s Manitoba Operations without self-isolating for 14 days after arriving in the province due to an exemption in public health orders for workers engaged in critical infrastructure construction and maintenance.

Although these contractors, who are performing work associated with Vale’s maintenance shutdown in August, do not have to self-isolate after arrival, they must receive a medical screening and clearance before coming to Thompson if they are coming from Ontario or further east.

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“Vale is using this exemption on a limited and case-by-case basis,” said Tara Ritchie of Vale Manitoba Operations Corporate & Indigenous Affairs department in an email. “If they do not receive this medical clearance, then they are not permitted to travel to Thompson,”

While in Thompson, any contractors from Ontario or further east who did not self-isolate upon arrival in Manitoba will also have to conduct a daily self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms, practise physical distancing, wear a non-medical face mask, self-isolate in their accommodations when not at work and adhere to all requirements from the provincial government and Vale, said Ritchie.

The protocol to exempt some contractors from the 14-day self-isolation period upon arrival in Manitoba was developed in consultation with the provincial and regional public health authorities, Ritchie said.

“Vale is committed to the health and safety of its people and the communities in which we operate,” she said. “ We are closely following COVID-19 requirements from the Manitoba and federal governments, as well as guidance from local and national public health authorities. We continue to implement stringent protocols and precautions to help ensure the safety and health of our employees and our community during the pandemic.”

Warren Luky, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6166, which represents more than 500 hourly workers at Vale Manitoba Operations, says bringing in contractors from Ontario and other eastern provinces poses some risk, even with screening protocols in place.

“Anytime you bring in people from out of town, no matter the screening and stuff, it’s never foolproof,” he said. “It’ll put our community at a little bit of risk unfortunately for the shutdown. I don’t know if it’s foolproof to be honest with you and that’s challenging for everybody working in the mine and the community where the contractors will be. Thompson’s been very lucky not to have any known cases so we’d like to keep it that way. Hopefully everyone can remain COVID-free. As far as the pandemic is concerned, we are far from out of the woods. We know how devastating it could be for the north.”

He also says it is frustrating that contractors are being brought in at a time when Manitoba Operations is planning to make job cuts this fall.

“They plan on laying off people but they’re also bringing in contractors to work  so it’s really frustrating for everybody,” said Luky. “[Contractors] fill up hotels and they get some restaurants busy but other than that we’d like to see Thompson people, people in the north do the work in the mine.”

Luky said a company presentation about Vale’s operations in Thompson is scheduled for July 15 and he is anxious to hear about their plans.

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