Nunavut’s hundreds of mine staff have been in the unusual position of being unable to report for work due to Covid-19 public health restrictions, but most of those employees have still been paid over the past year.
Many have retained 75 per cent of their salaries but Agnico Eagle developed an innovative option to allow them to earn full base pay by helping out with local causes in their communities. This is known as the Good Deeds Brigade.
Close to 80 Kivallirmiut workers chose to lend a hand with approximately 20 different projects and organizations, according to Plante. Food distribution, mentoring young adults and landfill cleanup are a few examples of the philanthropic activities that have taken place during the pandemic.
“It’s really something that we’re very proud of, and we’re glad that a lot of our employees were willing to jump into that initiative,” said Martin Plante, Agnico Eagle’s vice-president of Nunavut operations.
Shortly after the emergence of Covid-19, mining companies in the territory sent their Nunavut workforce home to lessen the risk of virus transmission at the mine site and the potential for Covid to spread to the communities.
Baffinland Iron Mines was the first to do it.
“Nunavummiut employees on standby due to Covid-19 have continued to receive their pay and full benefits since March of 2020,” stated Heather Smiles, manager of stakeholder relations for Baffinland.
Some of that time has been consumed by advancing employees’ skills and knowledge, even off-site.
“Baffinland has also been able to pivot some of its community training programs to online programming during the pandemic, providing internet data sticks and laptops while the training was ongoing,” said Smiles.
Plante noted that a small number of Angico Eagle workers have been able to continue with their responsibilities remotely from hamlet offices by performing community relations and fielding questions from staff.
He said planning has already been done to coordinate how Nunavummiut employees can resume work at the mine sites when the chief public health officer gives clearance.
“As soon as we can safely trigger the reintegration, it should come very, very (rapidly),” he said.
In the legislative assembly on March 3, David Akeeagok, minister responsible for mines and economic development, admitted that considerable uncertainty remained for the some-500 Nunavummiut mine employees seeking a return to work.
“There is no clear path right now. That work is still ongoing, but with the combination of our vaccine program and looking at the operations and how long that’s going to be taking place, that work is
very fluid right now and I don’t have a firm update,” Akeeagok said. “But I just want to assure the (MLAs) that there is work that’s taking place to try to get our workers back. We are hearing back
from our workers that they do want to go back to the mine site.”
He acknowledged that “a growing number” of Nunavummiut miners are so determined to resume work that they have moved south so they can travel back and forth from the mine sites like other southern hires.
Until there’s full approval for all Nunavummiut mine employees to return, Akeeagok said the Government of Nunavut is looking at training projects for those who remain at home.
“I would like to thank Agnico-Eagle Mines and Baffinland who have kept their staff on salary, though reduced, and for keeping the employees informed about what’s happening at the mine level,” the minister said.