Organizing the Mining Sector must be a Priority

June 1, 2023

The recent closure of the Minto Mine in Yukon was a stark reminder of why unions are so important in the mining industry. These workers have significant and sudden losses and broken promises when the they were told on May 12, 2023 that the mine was shutting down. Within 24 hours, they would all be shuttled off site and left to find their own way home.

Mining jobs are good paying jobs, and they play a crucial role in the economic well-being of our Yukon communities, especially those located near mining operations.  But we don’t need mining that will be left as a cost to taxpayers or leave destruction or devaluation of our lands and waterways. 

The likelihood of a mine following through with their required remediation in Yukon is very low.   There is a recurring pattern to scrape every penny from the ground and leave it to taxpayers for clean up or restoration. 

In the case of the Minto mine workers, left stranded in Whitehorse, its disturbing that they were dismissed so easily, an abrupt end of employment and broken trust with the company.  Some have said to me “this was a disaster we saw coming”.

For anyone interested, the abstracts and liens on this mine are public record and can be requested from the Yukon Mining Office.  They would show every transfer, renewal, and growing list of outstanding liens against the mine. 

A couple of unions have tried to organize the workers of Minto Mine in past years, to ensure they would have the protection of a union and a contract.  But they were unsuccessful so there was no union representation for these workers.  The current situation is a reminder about why unions are essential in mining.  Mining is an inherently dangerous occupation, as seen by the Westray disaster in 1992 that impacted legislation in Canada.  Actively organizing the mines in the Yukon is a priority for the Federation of Labour before something disastrous happens.  It is tragic that workers lost their livelihood, but losing their lives would be worse.

There are several concerning circumstances that negatively impact these workers who had little to no notice they no longer had a job.  

  • There was a video circulated by CBC where workers were receiving the news in daylight, being told not to go down for night shift as they will be shuttled out to Whitehorse in the morning and that they would get paid up to their last shift.  Transportation beyond Whitehorse was not confirmed. 
  • Other workers got off a night shift and then told to immediately get in a shuttle to Whitehorse. They were given one night in a hotel and left with no further assistance. 
  • Workers were also flown into Whitehorse and told not to come out to the site. They were left stranded with no transportation back home.   

It’s not likely these workers are going to get their last paycheques, or severance, or the bonus promised on the next pay. Sources say the entire board resigned the day before, abandoning their workers and the mine. 

A good question to ask is who ran away with the money?  Overall, workers in any industry should not be treated as disposable. Workers lose without union rights. Mining sector without a union is a disaster waiting to happen.

Teresa Acheson, President of the Yukon Federation of Labour

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