The union representing workers at the Nyrstar Myra Falls mine hopes the need for a temporary suspension of operations at the zinc and copper operation has set off alarm bells in the company.
“Hopefully, this is a wake up call for everybody,” said Bill Garton, president of Unifor local 3019.
Garton said they weren’t surprised by the company’s announcement Tuesday that it’s suspending operations.
“Basically, it’s not unexpected,” Garton said. “We believe that management has made some critically wrong decisions over the last year.”
Nyrstar announced Tuesday that it has decided to temporarily suspend regular mining and milling operations following a comprehensive review of present economics and operations at the Myra Falls mine located west of Campbell River.
A press release issued Tuesday said Nyrstar is committed to working in close consultation and within specified agreements with employees, throughout the temporary suspension period. The company will work towards a shared goal of facilitating a restart of operations, depending on the completion of critical milestones during the suspension period.
Garton said he hopes the company is honest about consulting with the workers during the shutdown.
“Just how much they’re willing to let us help and be part of this, we’re not sure. We will be finding out shortly,” Garton said. “Past history has been they haven’t liked us putting our input in. We’re hoping that has changed.”
The company’s economic and operational review identified a number of shortcomings across the site which has resulted in a significant deterioration in the performance at Nyrstar Myra Falls over the past 12 months.
“Deficiencies in site infrastructure, planning, operating, and maintenance practices, and inadequate mine development for future mining areas were all identified as topics that needed to be addressed,” said Glenn Smith, Acting Vice President North America for Mining at Nyrstar. “These factors have forced us into a period during which strategic programs and investments need to be assessed, and then implemented.
“These include such activities as restoration and upgrading of site power infrastructure, and execution of a focussed mine development plan within the mine’s existing footprint.
“We also need to ensure resources with appropriate technical expertise are engaged, to help transition our future operations into an efficient and profitable mine site, able to extract maximum value from the ore body at Myra Falls.”
A number of alternative operating scenarios to address economic and historic issues were evaluated, taking into account all associated operational and financial risks.
The evaluation identified temporary suspension as the most effective and practical scenario that would enable the company to focus resources on improvements at the site, in readiness for a restart.
Through a dedicated assessment and implementation period, Nyrstar Myra Falls will engage a core group of employees and focus on site optimization with the goal of implementing changes intended to substantially improve mine and plant operating conditions.
A restart of operations will be contingent on the completion of a number of critical milestones during the suspension period outlined above. Consequently, at this stage, Nyrstar was unable to provide a definitive restart date for operations.
The company says it has begun talking with all stakeholders and will continue to throughout the suspension period.
Garton said full details are yet to be provided but indications are that the company will keep about 75 workers – union and staff – out of the approximately 270 workers on the job to conduct remedial work.
Garton said the mine is viable and if the right decisions are made, the operation can continue for another 20-30 years.
“We believe we have a world class ore body,” he said.
The shutdown is expected to begin June 1.