Former workers at the Myra Falls Mine gathered outside the local union hall in Campbell River Wednesday, not sure what they’ll do next.
Some are third-generation miners and say the layoff this week is a gut punch.
“It came as a shock to me,” said Jenna Ohlinger. “I’m a third generation at the mine. My dad, he’s there, and he’s been there for 35 years.”
“I think shock, it is close to Christmas, and nobody was expecting this,” added Unifor Local 3019 President John Humphrey.
The mine is owned by Singapore-based Trafigura, which, in a statement, said, “Increased operating costs and depressed metal prices over a sustained period of time mean the operation is no longer financially viable, and the mine will be placed on long-term care and maintenance from Monday, December 18, 2023. Myra Falls Mine has sought creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to enable the company to be restructured.”
Contract negotiations with the union Unifor as recent as November provided no hint that trouble was coming, according to union staff.
Further negotiations had been put off until March, so the layoff is raising some questions with workers.
“I personally think this is a bargaining tactic myself. I think it’s just absolutely sickening, and I think it was grossly irresponsible,” said laid-off worker Rhyder Kelk.
“The whole thing seems quite fishy to me,” added Kirk Applejohn.
Workers are wondering if they’ll get their regular paycheques on Friday and whether the company will live up to the collective agreement and pay them two weeks for every year of employment in severance.
“That’s probably our biggest concern right now, is making sure our members are looked after as they go through this bankruptcy protection but we’re also concerned about the community in general. There are a lot of local contractors that are listed as creditors, and that’s a huge concern for us,” said Mario Santos, Unifor BC area director.
CHEK News has seen the long list of creditors Trafigura owes money to, which includes millions of dollars to local businesses and First Nations.
North Island Pumps, a “mom and pop” operation with only five employees rents, sells and maintains equipment to Myra Falls that literally keeps the mine from flooding every day.
“They owe us roughly $250,000, so a quarter of a million, and for us being that small, it hurts,” said North Island Pumps office manager Shaun Olson.
And all of this happening a week before Christmas.
“That’s pretty bad. It’s ruthless,” he said.
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen with payment at this point, however, I am still in contact with them, and we’re going to work something out as we still do have a lot of their equipment in our shop and they’re going to need that equipment so something is going to need to happen.”
Hein Frey, general manager of the Myra Falls Mine, said: “We recognize that this decision will be difficult news for our employees and other stakeholders and is in no way a reflection of the hard work and commitment of our people in recent years. Myra Falls Mine will now undergo a period of restructuring with the aim of returning to active operations in the future when market conditions allow.”
Creditors are advised to contact the court-appointed monitor under the CCAA proceedings – FTI Consulting Canada Inc.