Nunavut employees at Agnico Eagle’s Kivalliq mine sites were invited to return to work at the end of June after more than a year’s absence.
The mining company sent Nunavummiut workers home with 75 per cent pay in March 2020 to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 in local communities.
Since then, Agnico Eagle has been working with the Nunavut’s chief public health officer to implement its return to work plan, which was recently approved.
“It’s a very, very big milestone. I can not overstate just how hard we worked to get here,” said Martin Plante, the company’s vice-president of Nunavut operations.
Plante noted that if employees aren’t comfortable going back to work, they can also choose to stay home and receive 75 per cent of their pay, as they have for the past year.
“Everyone is there on a voluntary basis,” he said.
Agnico Eagle is using a phased approach to return Nunavummiut staff to work. On June 28, it welcomed back 12 employees to its Meliadine Mine site, followed by the return of another 20 workers at Meadowbank on June 29.
Plante said it will likely take two months before everyone is back to work.
One of the reasons for the phased approach is that workers returning to site will have to receive updated training. Part of that involves learning new Covid-19 protocols. However, job specific training will also be required.
“Depending on the experience of the individuals, it might be a couple of days up to a full week’s training,” Plante said.
Every Nunavummiut worker will be tested for Covid-19 on the first, fifth and 14th day they are at camp, according to Plante.
The reason for testing on the last day of the two-week shift is to minimize the risk of transmitting Covid-19 back to the communities.
“We want to make sure we do that additional step before we return. Our first goal is to protect the communities,” he said.
Agnico has also adopted additional safety measures throughout its mine sites. There are no more communal gathering spaces, extra hand washing stations and more social distancing requirements are in place.
In addition, the mines will only welcome Nunavummiut employees on days where there are no southern workers arriving.
The company has had beefed up Covid-19 protocols in place for the past year. Southern workers must test negative before boarding a plane. As part of its return to work plan, the company has also secured isolation hubs in Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit, where Nunavummiut workers can go if they test positive, in order to prevent community spread.
Plante added that when a case of the coronavirus is detected, Agnico Eagle’s aggressive contact tracing means that anyone who may have been in contact with the infected individual is also removed from the site.
“We move as many people as possible who could have been exposed,” said Plante. “With the other measures, we’ve been able to control spreads from happening.”
Although it’s not mandatory, Agnico Eagle is also encouraging all of its employees – both southern and Nunavummiut – to get vaccinated against Covid-19.