Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. will lay off more than 1,700 workers — close to two-thirds of its workforce — if the federal government does not allow the company to ship more iron ore this year, says CEO Brian Penney.
He laid out that position in what he called an “emergency request” to the federal government to increase the amount of iron ore it ships from its Mary River mine this year.
Baffinland needs to ship six million tonnes of iron ore in 2022, otherwise it will result in layoffs for more than 1,300 employees and 400 contractors, Penney wrote in a letter to federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal Thursday.
The company employs just over 2,600 workers, nearly half of them as direct employees.
“This request is based on the significant negative impact on mental health that will occur both directly to workers and their families and communities that receive termination notices if they are sent next week,” Penney wrote.
“Additionally, there is a recognized positive correlation between wage employment and food security.”
Baffinland has been trucking six million tonnes of iron ore from the Mary River mine and shipping it out of Milne Inlet each year since 2018.
However, its permit to do that expired at the end of December, meaning the company’s limit for this year is currently 4.2 million tonnes, spokesperson Peter Akman wrote in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
Baffinland — the territory’s largest private sector employer, which says it accounted for 23 per cent of Nunavut’s economic activity in 2019 — is already preparing a notice to the Nunavut Labour Standards Compliance Office.
It is warning it will lay off employees if Vandal does not comply with its request for more shipping, according to a press release from Akman.
At least 209 Inuit will be among those laid off, Akman wrote.
“We request that the Minister use this legal authority … which would … avoid the significant negative impacts on the health of the workers at Mary River that will be directly and indirectly impacted by the layoffs,” Penney wrote in the letter.
Penney is also waiting on a verdict from Vandal on Baffinland’s proposed Phase 2 expansion of the Mary River mine. A decision is expected at some point this summer. Earlier this month, the Nunavut Impact Review Board recommended Vandal not approve the expansion, but the northern affairs minister has the final word.
The company wants to build a 110-kilometre railway, an additional dock, and double its shipping amount from six million to 12 million tonnes per year.
Baffinland’s permit to ship six million tonnes was supposed to last until a decision on that expansion had been made, said Akman. But due to delays in the review process, the permit expired first, he said.
Vandal’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News