Hundreds of employees at Vale's Long Harbour site were greeted by layoff notices as they arrived for work Friday morning.

And while most knew layoffs were coming, it was the lack of warning that many found upsetting.

The workers were employed by subcontractor K-BAC, which has completed work on the construction phase of the nickel processing plant.

Vale spokesman Bob Carter says while such changes are to be expected as big projects move to the next stage, he acknowledged the short notice given on Friday.

"It's not uncommon to see workforce adjustments and layoffs being made," Carter said, adding similar changes occurred over the summer when priorities shifted from the port to work on another section of the project.

"What was unexpected is the day shift came in on Friday morning and were told that they would be laid off."

K-BAC ended up suspending operations for the day in order to reassess how many workers they'll need for the next phase of work beginning Tuesday.

That includes reducing hours of work, mainly through elimination of the night shift.

Carter says the company will begin recalling employees mainly for pipe-fitting and electrical instrumentation as they prepare for startup and actual processing of nickel next year.

He said processing could begin as early as six months from now.

"We understand they'll need 600 to 800 people, so you can appreciate that's quite a reduction from a peak of over 6,000 in August. But that's the reality of these large projects. Once you complete a significant milestone, we just require less people."

Carter also dismissed rumours that Friday's layoffs were the result of financial issues between Vale and K-BAC.

"No, this is a normal workforce adjustment for them," he said.

He said the Long Harbour site remains open, with Vale's commissioning, project and operations continuing with a normal work day.