On a recent trip to Labrador West-which I usually try to do several times a year - because you know you have to go over and load up on Walmart supplies - I was somewhat taken back how moderately quite the Labrador Mall was.
There were very few people around. But then it occurred to me! “Stan, there is a strike happening.”
Here is a summary of IOC's recent offer to the union: (as reported)
• Wages: An average 2.4 per cent increase every year for the five years of the agreement.
• Pension: IOC is promising increased contributions to the defined contribution part of the pension plan.
• Health: Improvements in areas like vision, air ambulance, short and long-term disability
• Temporary workforce: Reduction in the number of temporary workers from 12.5 to six per cent of the workforce but continued use.
• Temporary workers would get priority consideration for new permanent jobs.
• Spouses and children would also get priority hiring.
Nevertheless, on March 5, 2018, the United Steelworkers Union Local 5795 of the members voted in favour of a strike mandate (99.6 per cent). Which ultimately means the union rejected the above-mentioned IOC proposal. President Ron Thomas made no bones about how the union felt about the offer.
“This proposition, in the end, will create a two-tiered workforce and pension system that will see any new employees receive only one-third the current value of the pension plan.”
Another challenge for the local union would be the introduction of some unwanted changes to how sick days are worked. These two items in particular are unacceptable to the union, subsequently the refusal.
With approximately 1,300 workers directly affected by this labour dispute, as well as countless others (suppliers, restaurants, fabrication shops and contractors), it can cripple a community from a social/economic impact. In a close-knit community/environment such as Labrador West just about everybody has someone associated with the mining industry. Any work stoppage at this level goes well beyond just the workers of IOC; it touches everyone.
I don’t think I have to tell you, as I am quite sure you are mindful and aware. This whole state of affairs has an incredible negative distress on individual’s capacity to spend. Your disposal income is noticeably much less, which will have a direct bearing on local business activity. Many don’t and just can’t do what they used to on a reduced income (strike pay). The funds are just not there so you focus on what must absolutely be paid such as mortgage, rent, car payments and groceries. Social events and extras are out of the question.
Unfortunately, during my 30 plus years working, I have been on strike several times. Sure, we as employees knew it was coming and most of us made preparations financially to help lessen the burden. But as the strike lingered on, the saving dried up and the stress increased.
Labrador West can be characterized as a Remote Resource Town, meaning it is typically small, isolated and built around one resource (in this case iron ore) industries. Because of its dependence on the exploitation of a single industry/resource, the economies of a resource town is often ill-advisedly unstable and precarious. Of course, most of this is out of the local workers’ hands and is controlled by world markets and outside decision makers.
In some respect, Labrador West is no different than other Canadian Remote Resource Towns, (towns based on the extraction or processing of resources such as minerals, forest products and hydroelectric power), connected to an industry or business but lacks control over its’ own economic development and destiny.
The economic base is really accomplished by outside large corporations or governments that often control the nature and extent of the company’s activities (mining) and thereby determine and have an impact on the size of the local workforce and the degree of local business prosperity.
Because raw material from resource towns are frequently transported outside of the community and in most cases Canada, for final processing, most resource towns are totally excluded from the definitive economic benefits resulting from those resources. Hence, the boom and bust fluctuations (shifts in international markets) or external decisions that we have become accustomed to and not focused on local initiatives and benefits becomes the norm rather than the occasional.
These recurring variations can lead to feelings in the community of insecurity and worker impermanence which surges out migration. For Remote Resource Towns the future may seem uncertain and fluctuations between prosperous and down turns in the economy continue to plague us, but indisputably, we are resilient/strong and at all times see the long term positive side.
Thanks for reading my column and if you have ideas and or comments please feel free to e-mail directly at email@example.com.
Cheers from Central Labrador!
Stan Oliver lives and works in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
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