Donkin coal mine proceeding with job fairs despite layoffs
Kameron Coal says it's looking for experienced miners; union worried about temporary foreign workers
The owner of the underground coal mine in Donkin, N.S., is looking for workers at two job fairs despite having recently laid off 18 employees after a roof collapse.
The province shut down the mine Dec. 28 and said it won't reopen until a new safety plan is approved. Kameron Coal says it's working on that ground control plan now.
In a Saskatchewan newspaper ad, the company says it is looking for underground miners experienced in the use of continuous miner machines and the Komatsu flexible conveyor train system. It mentions other specialized equipment.
Mining union worried
That has the United Mine Workers of America worried.
The Donkin mine is not unionized, but the UMWA has said it hopes to organize the employees.
Gary Taje, the union's international staff representative, said he's concerned the job fair is set up to fail.
Taje said there are no underground coal mines in Saskatchewan. There are underground mines for potash, a soft mineral that is extracted using similar equipment to coal.
But that doesn't mean potash miners would easily adapt to coal mining, said Taje.
"It doesn't make a whole bunch of sense, as potash is a pretty clean mineral compared to coal, and potash miners do not make a smooth transition to coal," he said.
"Operation skills are similar, but the conditions in the mine are quite a bit different and I've never seen any transition from potash to coal. It just doesn't happen."
Taje said the job fairs may be a way to open the door to the use of temporary foreign workers from the United States — where the mine's parent company is based — if it can't find the right Canadians.
Kameron Coal has done that before and has been sanctioned for contravening the regulations.
Temporary foreign workers?
"My feeling is they're looking to satisfy requirements by Immigration Canada to try and get Canadian workers working, and they're just trying to show that they've taken efforts to get miners from wherever to go to their mine in Donkin," said Taje.
He said it doesn't make sense to look for more workers while some are laid off and the company's previous use of temporary foreign workers should have resulted in trained miners.
In an emailed statement, mine vice-president Shannon Campbell did not directly say whether the company was holding job fairs to find replacements for the laid-off workers.
"We are holding job fairs in Saskatoon, SK and Goderich, ON as these locations operate mines that use equipment similar to what we have at the Donkin mine," he said.
"These potential employees will supplement our existing skilled workforce and operate and help train our current employees on this specialized equipment."
In 2016, Kameron Coal was fined $54,000 — the largest ever handed out under the temporary foreign worker regulations — and banned for one year from accessing the program. That ban ended in December.
At the time, the company was penalized for advertising jobs to Canadian workers and, finding none suitable, offering the positions at much higher wages to Americans.
'Canadians that simply do not exist'
In some cases, workers were being paid more than double the amount initially offered to Canadians.
In documents filed during the company's appeal of the federal sanctions, Kameron Coal said no amount of compensation would attract "Canadians that simply do not exist."
Ed Griffith, the company's vice-president, said at the time there were no other underground coal mines in Canada, and none that use "the same advanced equipment we are putting in our Donkin mine."
Campbell would not say directly whether Kameron Coal is now planning to hire more temporary foreign workers.
"The areas where we are holding career fairs have workers that are experienced with this new equipment, which we brought underground at the end of 2018," he said in an email.
"This equipment is not coal specific and is currently used in salt and potash mines (along with coal mines). As we look to mesh the new equipment into the production cycle, our priority is to try and find the necessary skilled workers wherever they reside in Canada."