Mosaic to resume production at Colonsay in January
- 9 Nov 2016
- Saskatoon StarPhoenix
- ALEX MACPHERSON
Colonsay miners ‘enthusiastic’ about getting back to work
Mosaic Co. to resume production at site following shut down in July
They’re enthusiastic about being back, there’s no two ways about that.
Blaine Bracke spent more than three months struggling to scrape together enough money to cover his bills after he was temporarily laid off from his job at Mosaic Co.’s Colonsay potash mine in July.
The 50-year-old potash industry veteran landed a retail job three weeks ago, but it pays less than half his wage at the mine — so he was happy to learn last week that he could resume his 60-kilometre commute to Colonsay on Dec. 5.
“It’s going to be a whole different atmosphere at the mine, (but) I’m more than willing to give it a chance and do my job, same as I did before,” Bracke said Tuesday.
He is one of about 330 unionized miners who lost their jobs on July 13 when Mosaic decided to “idle” the mine amid what a company spokeswoman called “really challenging” market conditions.
Oversupply has caused potash prices to crumble from about US$900 in 2008 to less than US$200 today. Companies have responded by slashing production and cutting costs, while the government halted its planned potash royalty review.
The economic impact of weak potash, uranium and oil prices has been felt across the province. Over the last 12 months, Saskatchewan shed about 10,000 full-time jobs, Statistics Canada reported last week.
Mosaic Colonsay employees were told in July that work would resume in early January. That timeline is still in place as overseas buyers work through stockpiles, the Plymouth, Minn.-based company’s president and CEO said last week.
“We’re believing that it will probably be necessary for us to be starting up Colonsay in the early new year,” Joc O’Rourke said on a conference call. Production will resume in January, a company spokeswoman confirmed on Tuesday.
United Steelworkers (USW) local 7656 president Barry Moore said that while some employees were more successful than others at finding work over the last four months, most are excited about returning to the mine.
“They’re enthusiastic about being back, there’s no two ways about that,” Moore said, adding only about 10 of the roughly 330 laid-off workers have confirmed that they won’t return to the mine.
At the same time, many of the returning staff are wary of the “unpredictability” inherent in the potash industry, Moore said. Bracke, who said he plans to keep his second job as a form of insurance against another shutdown, is one of them.
“I’m not going through the unemployment situation again,” Bracke said.
When the Colonsay miners return to work, they will do so with a new contract. After voting down a proposed deal one week before the layoffs, USW local 7656 approved a contract in a Sept. 28 vote that at least one miner said was unfair.
Union officials and miners have said previously that the company’s timing felt suspect, and alleged that Mosaic was using the layoffs as a negotiation tactic — a charge the company vigorously disputes.
Industry analysts have suggested Mosaic won’t need the Colonsay mine to meet its production commitments until the end of 2017, but the company said last week it expects a “more stable operating environment” next year.