Union pleased with deal for laid-off Cameco work­ers

They’ll get 75 per cent of base salary and keep ben­e­fits dur­ing 10-month clo­sure

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - CITY+REGION - ALEX MACPHER­SON amacpher­son@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/macpher­sona

Work­ers af­fected by Cameco Corp.’s de­ci­sion to tem­po­rar­ily close two ura­nium pro­duc­tion sites in north­ern Saskatchewan will be paid 75 per cent of their base salary and re­tain their ben­e­fits dur­ing the 10-month lay­off, ac­cord­ing to the union rep­re­sent­ing them.

United Steel­work­ers (USW) Lo­cal 8914 an­nounced the agree­ment with Cameco in a so­cial me­dia post on Mon­day.

De­nis O’Hara, the union’s in­terim pres­i­dent, said in an in­ter­view that the money will come from em­ploy­ment in­surance (EI) plus “top-ups” from the com­pany.

“It’s way more than I would ever have an­tic­i­pated,” O’Hara said less than a week af­ter Cameco an­nounced plans to tem­po­rar­ily shut down its McArthur River mine and Key Lake mill, be­gin­ning in Jan­uary, in the face of what it called “un­sus­tain­ably” weak ura­nium prices.

The pro­duc­tion halt is ex­pected to af­fect 560 Cameco em­ploy­ees and 285 con­trac­tors.

O’Hara said while it’s not yet clear how many USW mem­bers will get pink slips, Cameco’s ac­tions mean the work­force will be around next year when the op­er­a­tions are ex­pected to start up again.

“This en­forces my opin­ion of Cameco be­ing a car­ing em­ployer. They care about their em­ploy­ees and the com­mu­ni­ties they come from,” O’Hara said, not­ing that the agree­ment will be es­pe­cially ben­e­fi­cial for the roughly 49 per cent of work­ers who live in the prov­ince’s north.

Cameco said in a memo to em­ploy­ees last week that it was work­ing on a plan to top up EI ben­e­fits and pro­vide group ben­e­fits dur­ing the shut­down.

Tim Gitzel, the com­pany’s pres­i­dent and CEO, said in an in­ter­view that the com­pany will need them when the op­er­a­tions are restarted.

Com­pany spokesman Gord Struthers con­firmed the agree­ment in an email on Tues­day, not­ing that Cameco will top up EI and con­tinue “se­lected ben­e­fits” for per­ma­nent union­ized and salaried staff.

“Cameco re­spects peo­ple and we want to help our em­ploy­ees and their fam­i­lies get through this pe­riod. When it’s time to restart pro­duc­tion, we will need the many skilled and ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple who op­er­ate these fa­cil­i­ties,” Struthers said.

Cameco has been strug­gling since the 2011 Fukushima Dai­ichi dis­as­ter sent ura­nium prices into free fall by dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing de­mand for nu­clear fuel. The com­pany re­sponded by cut­ting costs, part of what it calls a “lower for longer” busi­ness strat­egy.

De­spite tem­po­rar­ily clos­ing its Rab­bit Lake mine in April 2016 and slash­ing its cor­po­rate work­force, how­ever, the com­pany con­tin­ued to strug­gle as ura­nium prices fell by more than 70 per cent.

Last month, Cameco re­ported its fourth con­sec­u­tive quar­terly loss.

“There’s just to­day too much ura­nium out there,” Gitzel said last week. “We have a good in­ven­tory of ura­nium at Cameco that can sus­tain us that we can put into prof­itable con­tracts … We can ac­tu­ally buy ura­nium cheaper than we can pro­duce it.”

Cameco Corp.’s Key Lake ura­nium mill in north­ern Saskatchewan will be tem­po­rar­ily shut down be­gin­ning in Jan­uary due to low ura­nium prices.

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