Strike closes Voisey's Bay mine

Dozens of workers at the Voisey's Bay nickel mine in Labrador walked off the job early Friday after contract talks broke down with mine owner Inco Ltd.

Dozens ofworkers at the Voisey's Bay nickel mine in Labrador walked off the job early Friday after contract talks broke downwith mine ownerInco Ltd.

The117members of the United Steelworkers unionhandle heavy equipment and work in the mine's mill.

They walked off the job at midnight after a year of contract talks failed to producean agreement.

Ken Dawson, the Atlantic co-ordinator for the union, said a number of monetary issues,including wages,led to the contract showdown.

Dawson said mine workers employed by Inco in Sudbury, Ont. earn an hourly wage of at least $24, while their counterparts at Voisey's Bay make only $19 an hour.

"We're just looking for parity with other Inco workers," he said.

"I don't see why people in Labrador should be treated like second-class citizens, doing the same work."

Striker Greg Curl said the difference in pay makes no sense, and said workers had no choice but to strike.

"It's a joke what we're working for here," said Curl.

"Right now, I'm off the job and I don't want to be off the job," he said, "but I don't want to keep working for a wage that's a lot less than someone who's working in Ontario doing the same work.

"All that we're asking is for equal benefits, equal rights."

Although Inco would not go into specifics, the company said it made an offerThursday night that was the best it can do.

No further talks are scheduled.

Strikers fear mine may reopen

Although the walkout shut down operations at the mine Friday, some strikers are worriedthat Incointends toresumeproduction without them.

Curl said the company has already brought in replacement workers from Ontario.

"They're here now, they're already at the camp," Curl said early Friday morning. "There was a flight in late last night that nobody knew about."

Inco said the workers flown in Thursday night are security personnel. It has askedthe strikers to leave the property and has brought in a plane to transport them home.

The companyownsthe site whereminers live while working in the remote area. Inco also provides for of all of its employees needs while they are on site, including their meals.

However, about 40 workers were refusing to leave the site until the company hands them a written statement saying it will not reopen the mine with replacement workers once they leave.

Voisey's Bay employs more than 200 additional workers— many in the service sector— who belong to other unions.

Those employees do not have a clause in their collective agreements permitting them to observe other unions' picket lines, so theywill continue to work.

Strike could hurt provincial economy

Finance Minister Loyola Sullivan said a production shutdown at the mine would affect the provincial economy if it drags on for any length of time.

"A stoppage for a period of, let's say up to a month, it would have an overall impact of about 0.2 per cent on our real GDP growth," said Sullivan.

"With short shutdowns like that, normally the production can be made up over the remaining months and they would probably have very little if any effect over a period of a year with a shorter shutdown.

"If it goes beyond a few weeks and into a month, obviously it would have more significant impacts there."

Sullivan said the annual value of nickel concentrate coming from Voisey's Bay is worth close to $1 billion.