Sask. potash mine layoffs will have 'devastating' impact, says union president

United Steelworkers Union president Barry Moore says junior employees will be hardest hit by the loss of more than 300 jobs at Saskatchewan's Colonsay potash mine.

Mosaic laid off about 330 workers at Colonsay, Sask., mine on Wednesday

Edward Emmerson was one of about 330 people laid off from Mosaic's Colonsay potash mine. (Marc-Antoine Belanger/CBC)

Junior employees will be hardest hit by the loss of more than 300 jobs at a potash mine in Colonsay, Sask., according to United Steelworkers Union president Barry Moore. 

The Mosaic Company confirmed Wednesday morning it had laid off about 330 workers while it suspends operations at the mine for the remainder of 2016. 

According to the company, all 330 employees were paid in lieu of notice and they will be recalled on Jan. 3, 2017, when Mosaic anticipates the market will return to normal cycles.

It is understood about 32 employees will be retained for care and maintenance of the site, which is about 65 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon. 

What now? 

Moore, who is also a worker at the mine and was not laid off, said junior workers would have the hardest time finding another job. 

"It's going to be devastating for a junior employee, let alone a senior employee," he said. 

"But the junior employee, your skills and ability to find a job elsewhere is going to really be cumbersome."

Moore told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning that many of the former mine workers would need to turn to other industries, such as construction, to find work. 

About 330 workers have been laid off from Mosaic's potash mine just southeast of Colonsay, Sask. (CBC)

Edward Emmerson, who runs mining machinery underground in the production area, had worked at the mine for more than 11 years before he was laid off yesterday. 

The father of four is preparing for an adjustment as he considers his options for future employment. 

"I'm sure a person can find some work but it's just adjusting your lifestyle and everything else from working at this industry into something significantly less," he said. 

Mosaic attributed its decision to suspend operations at the mine to lower global potash demand and market prices. 

Union rejects contract   

The layoff notices were given just two days after the union at the Colonsay mine voted down the company's latest contract offer.

Both Moore and Emmerson believe the timing of the layoffs is suspicious. 

"That was our belief, that this was not a layoff, that it seems more like the doors were closed on us because of the recent contract," said Emmerson. 

The company denies the decision had anything to do with the offer being voted down on Monday. 

On Wednesday, Mosaic senior director of public affairs Sarah Fedorchuk said the company had been bargaining with the Colonsay union for over a year.

"This kind of decision is a difficult one to make. There's a lot of thought and preparation that have to go into making a decision of this magnitude and it was not something that was reactionary and we did overnight."

Mosaic said its lower-cost Esterhazy and Belle Plaine mines, combined with current inventory, would allow it to meet its short-term potash supply needs. 

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning