SASKATOON — The chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says First Nations people will be hurt by the shutdowns at two uranium mining operations in northern Saskatchewan.
Uranium miner Cameco Corp. says it has indefinitely extended production suspensions at its McArthur River and Key Lake operations.
The extension of the shutdowns, first announced as temporary in January, means the company will permanently lay off about 550 employees, including about 250 Indigenous people.
Chief Bobby Cameron says the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations is prepared to advocate for Indigenous workers to make sure they get proper compensation packages.
He says he hopes the closure won’t be similar to one in Uranium City, Sask., which saw economic collapse after its mines closed.
Cameron says it’s the First Nations who will have to live with the environmental impacts once resources in the northern mines are depleted.
A labour leader says hundreds of workers have already been in touch with their locals following news of the shutdowns.
Denis O’Hara, president of Local 8941 of the United Steelworkers union, says the workers are worried and concerned, because there are few other options for employment in northern Saskatchewan.
O’Hara says the workers are eligible for employment insurance benefits and Cameco has agreed to pay health benefits and a 75 per cent top-up of wages until Nov. 15.
But he adds employees still have a tough decision to make.
“Following Nov. 15, their name either goes on a three-year recall list — in other words, they will still be Cameco employees for the next 36 months — or they can apply for a severance package and terminate their employment,” O’Hara said Thursday.
“Fifty per cent of the union workforce is of Aboriginal ancestry, most of whom live in northern communities where there’s no job opportunities.”
Dave McIlmoyal, president of Northern Resource Trucking, said the company laid off about 20 drivers in January when the temporary suspensions were announced and is likely to make those layoffs permanent now.
He said the company has been working in the north for more than 30 years and has been actively looking for new routes in Ontario, Manitoba, northern Alberta and northern British Columbia.
The company has weathered downturns in the mining industry before, McIlmoyal said, but he added Cameco’s announcement will have a big impact on residents of northern Saskatchewan.
“We have the equipment and the people that are used in places like the oilpatch and other industrial settings … so we’re just leveraging the skills that we had in the uranium mining industry to expand and survive,” McIlmoyal told radio station CKBI in Prince Albert, Sask.
“I certainly don’t want to minimize the impact, but we’re a little different because trucks can move other places … but it’s a very difficult time for all of us.”
(CJWW, CKIB, The Canadian Press)
The Canadian Press