Sudbury Community Furious About Xstrata Layoffs – by Bill Bradley

Northern Life, Greater Sudbury’s community newspaper, gave Republic of permission to post Bill Bradley’s article.

Many Sudbury residents are furious that Xstrata Nickel laid off 686 workers Feb. 9 given an anti-layoff agreement the Swiss company signed in 2006 when it took over Falconbridge Ltd.

“In July 2006, the Minister of Industry allowed the Swiss-based Xstrata to buy-out Canadian based Falconbridge, on the condition that Canadian jobs would be protected for three years,” said Sudbury New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault, in a release.

“This (announcement of layoffs) is cold comfort to the 700 Canadians who have lost these so-called protected jobs,” said Nickel Belt New Democrat MP Claude Gravelle.

Both federal politicians said there is still time for the federal government to say no to the job cuts.

In an Xstrata release dated July 25, 2006, it is stated, “to demonstrate net benefit to Canada in order to obtain the approval under the Investment Canada Act, Xstrata has provided to the minister several important commitments in respect of Falconbridges’s operations and employees in Canada.”

Regarding commitment to employment it is stated by the company:

-”Xstrata is confident that its acquisition of Falconbridge will have a positive impact on long-term employment stability and growth  as a result of improved diversification by commodities, countries and currencies, as well as improved access to capital.”

-”Xstrata has committed not to make any layoffs of operating staff at any of Falconbridge’s operating facilities in Canada for a three-year period.”

-”Any potential layoffs in Canada over that period will be confined to head office, administrative and non-Canadian exploration positions.”

Richard Paquin, Mine Mill/CAW-Local 598 unit chair, said the union is taken aback by the layoffs, given the no lay-off clause signed with the federal government in 2006.

He did say that so far, the company has run a “tight ship” regarding who was cut, termination pay and severance.

“Termination pay amounts to 16 weeks of pay. Severance is $1,000 per year of service with a minimum of $4,000 paid out. But there is a catch. If you want to maintain recall rights, you have to not take the severance package.”

Mayor John Rodriguez said on CBC Radio Tuesday morning that he did speak to Conservative Industry Minister Tony Clement about the layoffs.

“The federal government is working with the company on a new agreement for major investments, $250 to $300 million, in their Nickel Rim South project,” he said.

As for the layoffs, the mayor said the local federal politicians should hold the company’s feet to the fire over commitments they made before.

“Xstrata signed a document. But my response has to be for the workers. We need to ensure there are labour adjustment programs to help them and their families through this.”

“It also makes sense to get money for infrastructure and for the jobs they will bring that was announced in the federal budget,” he said.

The job crisis may be an opportunity to think outside the box, said Rodriguez.

“We have been through this before. In the late 1970s we lost thousands of mining jobs. Many unemployed miners helped on the re-greening program. That kickstarted that whole process. Many people came up with ideas on how to diversify the city. We had another downturn in the early 1980s. That is when Science North was built.”

Industry Minister Tony Clement said in a release he was disappointed by the Xstrata announcement.

“My thoughts go out to the men, women, and families affected by this decision. I will ensure that any applicable job training or other programs to assist these workers will be made available through Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.”

Clement did say that after extensive discussions with the company, Xstrata has committed to investing “this year and next, between US $290 million and US $390 million in the Sudbury area. The company has committed to investing US $250 million in capital expenditures in order to bring its Nickel Rim South mine into full production by the end of 2010,” he stated.

“It has also committed to initiating a comprehensive feasibility study on the Fraser Morgan project and the Fraser mine this year, to be completed in 2010 at a cost of approximately US $1 million.”

If the projects are viable, the company will invest another US $100 million to develop them, said Clement.