Retired union rep expresses concerns about Donkin mine job losses

Recent job losses at the Donkin coal mine have a union representative worried about what it means for the safety of the operation.

'There’s no one there to watch out for these guys now,' says Bob Burchill

Bob Burchill, a representative with the United Mine Workers Union, is concerned about the number of experienced people who lost their jobs at the Donkin coal mine. (CBC)

Bob Burchill doesn't like what he's seeing at the Donkin mine.

The retired United Mine Workers Union representative and former miner said the explanation from Kameron Coal management for terminating 49 jobs doesn't make sense.

A company representative said last week Kameron needed time to bring in new equipment and develop a new mine plan after encountering conditions that were more challenging than expected.

Burchill, who has worked to unionize the mine, doesn't buy that explanation.

The history is known

"There's been years and years of studies done on Donkin mine and its geological configurations. Devco has done lots of documentation on it," he said, referring to the Crown corporation that dug the mine.

"They know the type of equipment we used here."

Burchill said he believes the company, a subsidiary of the Cline Group, is taking a hard line on who it does and doesn't want working there. That approach has resulted in the most experienced people — particularly those who have worked in subsea mines — being sent home.

Not surprised

That doesn't make much sense for a company claiming it has concerns about productivity, he said. But Burchill said he wasn't surprised.

"They will bring as few qualified miners in as they can to train the younger guys and then let those guys go and keep the younger guys and inoculate them into their way of mining so that they'll dance to their music."

Attempts by CBC News to get comment from an official with the mine were unsuccessful.

Several of the people who lost their jobs last week noted that the people with the most experience seemed to be the ones being sent home.

Politicians continue to have faith

Political officials, however, have said the company's commitment to the operation is obvious from the investment to date. Business Minister Geoff MacLellan, the MLA for Glace Bay, said he's seen nothing from the company during his interactions with officials to suggest anything is amiss.

Cape Breton Canso MP Rodger Cuzner likewise pointed to the amount of money Kameron is pouring into the site as proof it is committed to the operation. It's in the company's best interest to do things the right way, he said.

Cape Breton Canso MP Rodger Cuzner said he believes the company is committed to the mining operation. (CBC)

"There wasn't a huge lineup of suitors to take over the operation of the mine," he said in an interview last week.

Not risking life for a job

"I'm of the opinion we should at least give them the opportunity to try to get this thing operational so that it provides some long-term, sustainable jobs for the people in the region."

Everyone in Cape Breton is well aware of the province's mining history and the dangers that go along with the job, said Cuzner.

"I don't think anybody is going to turn a blind eye to health and safety conditions," he said. "Nobody's willing to place themselves in danger over that."

Less experience means less safe

But Burchill doesn't expect anyone who lost their job last week to find their way back into Donkin any time soon and he's worried about what the loss of all that experience underground could mean for the people still working at the site.

"[The Cline Group head Christopher] Cline has proven over the years he's not worried about the men. He's more worried about his bottom dollar and these guys need to have somebody there," said Burchill.

"We weren't all that concerned about the safety issues while they had these experienced miners there because we knew that they were watching out for these newer guys and we eventually would unionize the mine. But there's no one there to watch out for these guys now."

About the Author

Michael Gorman

Reporter

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca