Spring may still seem postponed, but work has finally resumed at Coleman Mine in Levack.
Operations were suspended before Christmas for repairs to an underground ventilation compartment, idling many workers on temporary layoff. That was initially supposed to last just a month or two; instead, the shutdown dragged on nearly five months.
Now, however, it’s business as usual at the Vale facility.
“The entire workforce is back at the mine working on regular shifts,” said Angie Robson, manager of corporate and aboriginal affairs, in a message to The Star.
She said employees were called back in mid-March for training and crews are now “performing value-added work in the orebodies, with production ramping up later this week.”
About 280 production and maintenance employees from Coleman were originally laid off as a result of the temporary shutdown, although some 230 workers “were recalled to either support the required repair work or to temporarily work at other mine sites,” said Robson.
Steelworkers 6500 president Rick Bertrand was not impressed when he got the news of the shutdown back in early November.
The union is “definitely not happy with the decision,” he told The Star at the time, arguing the repair work “could have been done a long time ago.”
Bertrand argued Vale was “negligent” in not addressing the ventilation issue sooner and laid-off employees should be paid during the cessation of work.
Instead, those who weren’t brought back to help with the repair work or reassigned elsewhere were left applying for Employment Insurance over Christmas.
Robson said the company was sensitive to the disruption caused to workers and their families, but its priority was to “ensure the shaft is safe to operate before bringing Coleman Mine back to production.”
The refurbishment took longer than expected, however, due to a few unforeseen issues that arose as the work proceeded.
“As we got deeper into the shaft, we found that additional repair work was required that extended the original timeline for the repair,” said the Vale spokeswoman.
Work included “removal of compromised concrete blocks and steel brattice in the ventilation compartment, cleaning, inspection and replacement of beams in the skip compartments,” said Robson, as well as “repair of the manways adjacent to the services compartment.”
Incoming Steelworkers president Nick Larochelle, who was elected to replace Bertrand late last week, said the situation was far from ideal but he was pleased to see everyone back at work.
“The guys are following a regular scheduled shift, and that’s a positive thing,” he said. “It wasn’t a good thing but actually a lot of good things did come out of it.”