Protesting poor wages, deteriorating working conditions and inadequate health & safety infrastructure, workers at the camp are taking an indefinite stand against the Cleveland-based mining giant, Cliffs Natural Resources.
Workers describe an average week‘s work in the Cliffs Mining Camp as moving out bulk samples of Chromite, weighing up to 200 tons or 400,000 pounds. This labour intensive work is carried out by hand and manpower exclusively and involves manually loading rocks into 15 gallon pails and onto airplanes.
“On Thursday June 16th, representatives from Cliffs’ management visited the Camp and offered us a package that would effectively make us all ‘SEASONAL’ workers on the organizational chart, in exchange for EI benefits” says Ralph Baxter “This means we will become Cliffs employees with no benefits and we will make a mere $140 per day for a 14 hours day. This is less than a McDonald’s wage and is a complete insult to us and our families who are working under these extreme conditions,” he continued.
Workers from the Cliffs Mining Camp describe the working conditions as both physically and mentally intensive. The Camp is completely isolated from civilization in the remote wilderness of Northern Ontario. Workers agree to leave their families and live in isolation, often experiencing extreme weather conditions, for up to 4 weeks at a time.
Says Ralph Baxter “We understand that the conditions in mining camps will be basic but there is a common industry expectation that workers are compensated and paid accordingly based on the employment conditions. This is not the case here. Cliffs offers no isolation pay, inadequate travel pay, no employment benefits and offers poor bonus incentives. We are without question the poorest paid workers in the mining industry.”
Cliffs’ workers are also citing health & safety issues as a serious concern as there is currently no infrastructure for helicopters to land at the Camp in the evenings in case of accident or illness.
“We are literally putting our lives in their hands every time we board a plane to go to work and they will not respond to any requests for support or offer us better pay. The camp is being run like a dictatorship– we are not allowed to voice our opinion or provide input to make improvements but we will not put up with this treatment,” says Jesse Nadon.
Following the resignation of the frustrated Camp Manager last week, First Nation and non-native workers decided to show their support by also leaving the work site. Cliffs’ workers are now asking all First Nation communities and Municipalities in Northwestern Ontario to support their protest and to hold Cliffs Natural Resources accountable to being a fair and equitable employer in Canada. In addition, they are looking for support to prevent Cliffs from importing outside workers during the dispute.
“We are taking a united stand today to ensure that this is not the precedent set for future generations of workers,” says Kevin Loder.
Cliffs is leading development of the Ring of Fire, a mineral rich area in the James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario and said to be the largest discovery of chromite in the world. The Cliffs Chromite project involves the development of a mine, a railway corridor and a 300-megawatt ferrochrome production facility.