Nova Scotia

Donkin mine owner lays off 18 workers

The province says the mine can't reopen until the Department of Labour approves a new ground control plan that lays out how operations can resume safely.

Kameron Coal can't say when mine will reopen after roof collapse 2 weeks ago

Kameron Coal, owner of Donkin mine, has laid off a number of workers following a roof collapse two weeks ago. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Eighteen workers have been laid off at Nova Scotia's only underground coal mine in Donkin following a roof collapse two weeks ago.

Kameron Coal, the mine's owner, told CBC News in an email that a number of workers received records of employment on Wednesday, allowing them to apply for federal employment insurance benefits. 

Mine vice-president Shannon Campbell said in an email that all but 18 of Donkin's 128 workers were called back after Christmas "to perform routine maintenance, upkeep the mine and surface facilities and install additional ground support."

The mine has been subject to a number of roof falls since it opened two years ago, and suffered six in the last six months alone.

No one was injured in the most recent collapse, which occurred while the mine was on holiday shutdown.

No word on when mine will reopen

The province says the mine can't reopen until the Department of Labour approves a new ground control plan that lays out how operations can resume safely.

Campbell said the 18 employees who've been laid off are waiting for further work to be approved by the Labour Department.

Mine vice-president Shannon Campbell says the company is using the downtime for training and routine maintenance, which has allowed some other workers to stay on. (CBC)

"We continue to work closely with the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, but do not have a timeline yet as to when the mine will reopen," Campbell said.

"We are working diligently to ensure that the appropriate measures are in place to operate the mine safely."

Union still intends to organize Donkin miners

Employees at the Donkin mine are not unionized, but the United Mine Workers of America has said it intends to organize the miners.

Gary Taje, the UMWA's international representative, said the shutdown may be affecting more than just the miners.

"I only know of the underground miners being laid off," he said.

"I don't know of others, but a shutdown of a mine could impact the (preparation) plant and people hauling the coal, and so on and so forth. I don't know if that has happened."

Taje also said roof falls can occur when the mine ceiling is made of soft shale.

He said Kameron Coal has been using a roof bolt system, in which bolts are screwed into the layers of rock overhead, binding them together to make them stronger.

But the bolts may simply be crumbling the soft rock, Taje said.

Miners have been known to remove the soft rock and put bolts into more solid layers, but that is costly and time-consuming, he said, as the soft rock has be removed from the mine and cleaned.

Other mines have used steel beams or arch supports to shore up crumbling roofs, said Taje.

Roof collapse concerns labour minister

Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis said he is concerned about the roof collapse.

A sign outside the Donkin mine outlines safety procedures. Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis says the mine is 'probably the most inspected workplace in the province.' (CBC)

"It's underground," he said. "It's under the seabed.

"Let's be frank, it's a very high-risk environment, and in terms of what happened, I'm pleased that there was no injuries or fatalities.

"But there's always concern. That's why it is actually inspected constantly. It is inspected by appointment and as well as by surprise by inspectors, and it's probably the most inspected workplace in the province."