The 630 unionized workers at the Glencore-owned Raglan Mine in Nunavik, members of the Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers union, went on strike late Friday night, May 27.
A demand for genuine respect from Glencore is a major issue for the union members, who often work 11-hour shifts, for 21 consecutive days, at the isolated, fly-in/fly-out nickel mining operations in Nunavik. The increased use of subcontractors, who work under inferior conditions at Raglan Mine, is another key issue in the labour dispute.
“It has reached the point where there are often many more contractors at the mine site than unionized workers. It doesn't make sense. This means fewer economic benefits for the regions of Quebec, while this multinational corporation extracts huge profits by exploiting our natural resources,” said Eric Savard, president of Steelworkers Local 9449, which represents the striking workers.
In addition to the shameful use of subcontractors, other stumbling blocks in negotiations include vacations, working conditions and wages. Above all, however, workers are demanding respect from Glencore.
“Glencore has been continually pushing the limits. It even balks at providing a proper lunch hour to workers who are working 11 hours a day, 21 days in a row. It’s reached the point where those who refuse to work overtime are given the cold shoulder by the bosses. Living conditions at the mining camp have deteriorated over the years. The employer systematically quibbles over the living and working conditions of employees who are away from their families for long periods of time. It’s time for this company to show greater respect for the workers who are generating its profits of tens of millions of dollars each year,” Savard added.
The parties met on Friday in the presence of a mediator, without breaking the impasse in negotiations. The union members therefore decided to exercise their strike mandate, which they had approved last week by an overwhelming majority vote of 97.5%.
“We are faced with an employer who continually seeks to do as little as possible to improve the quality of life of its workers. This employer has even tried to divide the workers and turn them against each other. But today, union members are united and have chosen to walk out, together. And it is united that they will return to the mining camp when they receive the respect they deserve from their employer,” said Steelworkers union representative Harold Arsenault.
The Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers, affiliated with the Quebec Federation of Labour, is the largest private-sector union in Quebec, representing more than 60,000 workers in all economic sectors.