More than 500 people have been laid off after Baffinland Iron Mines suspended work it scheduled to finish this year, one month earlier than it planned to before the holidays.
The company did that by ending contracts with subcontractors. The move affects 96 Inuit and 490 non-Inuit labourers who held contract jobs at the Mary River Mine, 150 kilometres outside of Pond Inlet.
All Inuit workers in this series of layoffs were employed by other companies doing contract work for the mining corporation. The company says no Baffinland employees are impacted.
Baffinland says it's suspending the work over "uncertainty of Phase 2 permit approvals."
"Certain contractors working on site have been notified that these works have been suspended," the mining company told CBC in an email this week.
"There is no date for remobilization at this time."
Cuts come as a surprise
The Nunavut Chamber of Mines says it's watching the situation unfold with concern.
"The project is very important to Nunavut," the chamber stated.
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association echoed the same sentiment, expressing concern over Inuit employment and contracts at the Mary River project.
The association is waiting for more information from Baffinland on how any loss of contracts are impacting Inuit.
No Inuit to lose jobs, Baffinland said previously
The company has been working to get approval from the Nunavut Impact Review Board to double the mine's output of iron ore and to build a railway.
That expansion was put on hold earlier this month when lengthy environmental hearings held in Iqaluit were adjourned. Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated called for an adjournment, saying communities didn't have the information they need to know the expansion is in the best interest of Inuit.
At those hearings, Baffinland officials said no Inuit would lose their jobs as a result of the phase-two expansion.
Baffinland CEO Brian Penney said the expansion was needed for the mine's long-term financial success. But communities wanted more proof of that.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Baffinland said the adjournment will delay the hearings and a final decision, and "the uncertainty has forced Baffinland to reduce its contractor workforce."
In December, Baffinland's temporary project certificate to mine six million tonnes of iron ore will expire. The company will return to an allowance of just over four million tonnes.
"Baffinland is committed to the [Nunavut Impact Review Board] process and supports the recent hearing delay," the statement said.
The company said equipment at its Milne Inlet site that was meant for its expansion will remain there until a final decision has been reached. Should the second phase not go ahead, it said the equipment will be "re-purposed or removed."