Iron Ore Company workers on strike in Labrador, demanding end to two-tier conditions

Around 3:00 am on March 27, the close to 1,400 workers of Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) in Labrador City went on strike. They walked out mainly to oppose IOC employing a “temporary workforce” side-by-side with permanent workers doing the same work under drastically inferior working conditions. The workers do not accept that a mining giant such as IOC should force a section of workers to labour under substandard conditions. The strike vote took place Monday, March 26 in two membership meetings of United Steelworkers Local 5795, one in the morning and one in the evening, in which workers voted on the latest company offer.

“We had 92.5 per cent of the workers voting, which is a huge turnout, and we had 91.1 per cent voting for a strike,” Local 5795 President Ron Thomas told Workers’ Forum. “Our members are upset. The company never sat down and negotiated with us and they never took us seriously. The biggest issue right now is the temporary workforce. Our members do not want it. They do not want to have workers coming in and doing the exact same job working side-by-side but with no benefits. This is a step backwards. We agreed to a temporary workforce in a very specific period when times were rough. Right now times are better and we feel that everybody that works at IOC should be getting the same treatment.”

Thomas informed Workers’ Forum that the company dropped its demand to impose a defined contribution plan for new hires instead of having them on the same defined benefits plan that workers currently have. “The smartest thing for the company to do is to get back to negotiations soon so we can put this behind us and go back to producing. If not we are willing to stay out as long as it takes. Our picket lines are up and there is very strong morale on the picket lines.”

Workers who form the “temporary workforce” do not work regular schedules. The company moves them around at whim to different shifts and production areas in a way that is detrimental to their health and safety. They have fewer benefits than the other workers. They have no guarantee of being called back by the company once they finish the job. IOC presents this temporary work as an exciting opportunity to work under non-standard conditions. This temporary precarious work force is hired within a work environment that is already marked by workers’ extreme fatigue and by hazardous conditions. According to IOC, the creation of a temporary work force is an “effort to increase workplace flexibility and meet the needs of the business.” Temporary workers become a “readily available workforce who are highly motivated, adaptable to changing situations and priorities, can interact well with others and demonstrate both the ability to work independently and to contribute effectively within a team.” In other words, a disposable and precarious workforce for whom all rights are negated.

The IOC workers in Quebec, in Sept-Ìles on the North Shore, are voting on the same offer on Wednesday, March 28 and Thursday, March 29.

At IOC’s complex in Labrador, workers mine iron ore which is then concentrated and pelletized and prepared for transport by rail 418 kilometres to the port of Sept-Îles for shipping to steel plants worldwide. IOC is operated by Rio Tinto Ore Group and is a joint venture among Rio Tinto (58.7 per cent), Mitsubishi Corporation (26.2 per cent) and Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Income Corporation (15.1 per cent).

(Photos: USWA 5795, J. Brideau, D. Matthews)

Workers’ Forum, March 29, 2018

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