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COVID-19 wage subsidy will help keep mines open, but operations remain threatened by infection

by Greg Klein | March 30, 2020

Ottawa’s extension of wage subsidies to all businesses brings hope to mining industry workers, says the Mining Association of Canada. But controversy remains about keeping projects in operation when there’s a risk of coronavirus transmission.

COVID-19 wage subsidy will help keep mines open, but operations remain threatened by infection

Companies still in operation hope extra precautions will
shield their mines from infection. (Photo: Agnico Eagle Mines)

In an effort to prevent layoffs, the feds now offer a temporary 75% wage subsidy up to $58,700 backdated to March 15, MAC reported. To qualify, large and small businesses, non-profits and charities would have suffered revenue decreases of at least 30% due to the pandemic. MAC “looks forward to further specifics of the program but welcomes the intent,” the association announced.

“As is the case with many sectors, mining has been heavily impacted by COVID-19, with multiple companies reducing or suspending operations at mines, smelters and refineries across Canada, resulting in tens of thousands of layoffs of direct and indirect employees,” said MAC president/CEO Pierre Gratton. “The wage subsidy will help prevent further layoffs, thus minimizing both the scale and extent of disruption to both businesses, employees and contractors, and better position the mining sector to resume operations and support the many thousands of individuals who depend on it for employment.”

Mine suspensions have been occurring inconsistently around the world and within Canada. Following an order from Quebec, IAMGOLD TSX:IMG suspended its Westwood mine in that province but continued work on its advanced-stage Coté project in Ontario, a province that considers mining and related projects to be essential services. The company continues operation at its Burkina Faso and Suriname mines, which have been transitioning to “self-confinement” since last week.

Agnico Eagle Mines TSX:AEM put its three Quebec operations on care and maintenance last week but continues reduced operations at its Meliadine and Meadowbank mines in Nunavut using Quebecois workers to replace native territorial employees whose communities are considered especially vulnerable to an outbreak.

Last week Baffinland Iron Mines took similar precautions with its Mary River employees, the Nunatsiaq News reported.

On March 29 the newspaper stated that Agnico Eagle had put Meliadine on “complete lockdown” with non-emergency travel to or from the site banned for 28 days. The company denied the decision came in response to a tweet from a catering contract employee ridiculing the site’s health precautions and the threat of infection, the paper added. The employee has been fired, according to the News.

The miner will also reduce transportation to Meadowbank from four flights a week to four a month.

Meanwhile an employee at Ontario’s Detour Lake mine has tested positive for COVID-19. “The worker arrived at the mine with no symptoms on March 12, began showing symptoms and self-isolated on March 14, and was taken from site on the morning of March 16,” said a March 29 statement from Kirkland Lake Gold TSX:KL. Workers who had been in close contact have been instructed to undergo medical examinations, while others have been told to monitor themselves for symptoms.

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