One key question has been repeatedly asked since Hudbay Minerals’ plan to wind down mining operations in Flin Flon by 2021 became public last week; what happens now?
Last week, Hudbay Manitoba business unit vice president Rob Assabgui released a statement to workers stating that efforts by the company to extend the lifespan of the 777 mine had failed, not only stating the mine would shut down by 2021, but that the Flin Flon mill would be placed under care and maintenance and the zinc plant would “most likely” be shut down.
Seven area union chapters – International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1405, International Association of Machinists Local 1848, Boilermakers Union Local 451, Operating Engineers Local 828, Carpenters Union Local 1614, and United Steel Workers Locals 7106 and 9388 – have combined efforts to find a favourable outcome for affected workers.
According to the union group, Flin Flon workers will be able to maintain employment in Snow Lake based on seniority, but which workers end up where and who may be impacted is unknown.
“This will be life changing for some of our members as they will be away from families for long periods of time,” reads a statement from the group released to The Reminder.
“Prospects for our members are bleak. Some will have to leave Flin Flon. Members are already looking for jobs elsewhere. If they risk staying past 2021, there will be minimal good paying jobs in Flin Flon. We believe this will devastate the community of Flin Flon and surrounding area, as for every one job we lose, four people are affected,” reads the union statement.
Mayor Cal Huntley was at the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) annual meeting in Winnipeg last week when the news broke. Along with a number of officials from the city, Huntley had a chance to speak with provincial cabinet ministers about the announcement.
“We met with the ministers before then, but we were aware of the memo that had gone out to Hudbay employees. Part of what we were doing was in line with that and what we’ve been doing has been in line with that; the diversification, the mining reserve fund and how to meet those requirements,” he said, adding he felt the dialogue with the ministers was positive.
“That was part of the conversation and it reinforced some of the things we were looking for from them with regards to support for diversity and viability for the community.”
Flin Flon MLA Tom Lindsey said he was caught off guard by the news. While he knew 777 had a limited remaining lifespan, he said he was told plans to keep Flin Flon facilities viable were succeeding.
“I was initially surprised because I was under the impression that things were being done and were well on their way to make sure that the zinc plant would stay running past 2021,” he said. “We knew that the mine was scheduled for shutdown and they kept scratching around trying to find some more ore.”
Since news of the shutdown broke, Lindsey has been in contact with municipal officials, union leaders and Hudbay itself. Those discussions have left even Lindsey unsure of Flin Flon’s next step.
“In a sense, it’s the early stages. In another sense, it’s not early stages. We knew some of this shutdown was coming for the mine. I’d hoped that there would be more discussions around alternatives that could start to take place,” he said.
“If Flin Flon isn’t going to be a mining community, then what is it going to be?”
Huntley doesn’t know what the next three years may bring, but refuses to subscribe to the pessimistic mentality that some have taken on. Instead of playing a funeral march for the city, Huntley said it was time to get to work, either on kickstarting mine investment in the area or encouraging other industries to take root.
“You don’t want to be overly optimistic, but you certainly don’t want to live in doom and gloom,” he said.
“We want to be realistic, but we want to move through with a positive attitude and look for opportunities to mitigate this one scenario. In all likelihood, in the next three years, there is a very real possibility that if the government encourages the juniors and prospectors to get out there, we could very easily have a different scenario forecast down the road. It takes a long time to develop a mine, but even if you know it’s coming, that’s very helpful.
“It’s three years down the road. Certainly, that will go by rather quickly, but we’ll see what it brings. The announcement has been made, that’s the scenario we have to work off of at this time, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep our community viable, as it is today.”
Huntley, Lindsey and the unions are in agreement on one key point; all available options should be exhausted to keep Flin Flon going.
“I know a lot of people in the community are upset. We’re upset. It’s not the scenario we were hoping for. We thought we’d get a couple more years out of 777,” said Huntley. “We were encouraged seeing the drilling rigs down at Centoba Park and that kind of thing, but unfortunately, that didn’t pan out. This is the scenario we’re working from, which we knew was a distinct possibility.”
“People in Flin Flon have been down this road before, with the 2012 talks that the place was shutting down,” said Lindsey. “If there’s a glimmer or a chance at something, let’s pursue that. Let’s not just throw up our hands and give up.”
The statement from the unions said they would do whatever they had to to protect their members and the communities they live in.