Arctic Canada: Agnico Eagle’s mine training program has its critics

Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank gold mine, about 150 kilometres north of Baker Lake, Nunavut, in Canada’s eastern Arctic. (Agnico Eagle Mines)
A worker at Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank Mine in Nunavut (Canadian eastern Arctic) says a training program designed to train Nunavummiut allows southern contractors to rise, while Inuit wait for training.

Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. operates the Meadowbank open-pit gold mine, north of Baker Lake and the Meliadine mine near Rankin Inlet.

CBC has agreed not to name the worker, who said he fears reprisal from the company. The man has been an employee with the company for over a decade, and said he has never been suspended.

The employee, who is not Inuit, said he is “fed up” with the treatment of his Inuit colleagues.

The man said Inuit on his crew are overlooked for higher-paying positions and become frustrated when they are turned down for the training they need to advance.

The company launched the Mine Career Path training program in 2012 to hire for positions, such as haul truck driving, from the local Inuit population. The program, according to the company’s website, supports the “upward career progression” of Inuit employees.

Mine Career Path candidates are required to pass tests, put in many hours, and complete training to advance to better paid and highly skilled jobs.

But the worker said the company is able to fill some positions with contractors from the south, who take shorter, months-long training programs in Val d’Or, Quebec, while Inuit work through a program where advancement is at the discretion of Agnico Eagle.

Once contractors fill the positions, there is little opportunity for people in the Mine Career Path program to move up, he said.

The worker said he confronted management about the issue and was reprimanded.

‘They think we’re not good enough’

Kimbo Okpatauyak is a heavy equipment operator at the Meliadine Mine, 20 kilometres from his home community of Rankin Inlet. He said he’s a worker of 14 years.

Okpatauyak advocated for his own training, but agreed his peers are sometimes overlooked.

“One of the guys I work with … he quit because he waited so long. Over a year he waited. He had enough of it. He just quit because people from the south kept getting trained before him,” he said.

Few Inuit hold management roles, he said.

“They think we’re not good enough but I’m sure we’re as good as other people,” he said.

Okpatauyak said he knows of Inuit working on water trucks or with garbage disposal who applied to train for higher paying jobs but were rejected.

Some Inuit are passed over for equipment training because they don’t have the required reading and mathematics skills, the company says. (Agnico-Eagle)
Mine says it makes industry-leading training investment

Mélissa Desrocher, a spokesperson for the company, acknowledged some Career Path workers don’t advance to training for higher-paying, equipment operator training, but she said that’s because they do not meet “basic requirements” for numeracy and literacy.

She said the company fills those positions with temporary contractors while it trains locals with on-site educators in math and literacy.

Regarding the mine worker’s statement that he was reprimanded for confronting management with the alleged issue, Desrocher said the company has no record of formal complaints about the program.

She said Agnico Eagle does “just the opposite” of preventing career advancement among Inuit. It makes industry-leading training investments and will spend $8-million on training in 2019, she said.

Aware of a ‘gap’
Some of the 500 workers at Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank mine touch the first gold bar after it was poured. The company says 100 per cent of entry-level jobs are held by Inuit. (Bill Braden)

Inuit occupy 100 per cent of entry level jobs at the mine, said Desrocher.

There are no training programs for haul truck and mine process plant training in Nunavut. The company wants the federal and territorial governments to help with education and training, she said.

The company is seeking partnerships with Nunavut Arctic College and the Centre de formation professionnelle Val-d’Or, in southern Quebec, for a customized underground mine training program.

“We’re conscious that there is a gap in the education and training offered in Nunavut. We’re making that extra effort just to make sure they have the same access to the job opportunities that southerners might have,” said Desrocher.

The company’s vision is to “have mines managed by Nunavummiut,” similar to its mines in Mexico, where locals have management positions, she said.

Agnico Eagle has two Inuit supervisors that oversee maintenance at the Meliadine and Meadowbank mines, Desrocher said.

A study released last month by the Conference Board of Canada praised the proportion of Inuit representation among hires at Agnico Eagle and its Career Path program.

For 500 Inuit that have accessed the Career Path program, the mine has offered a total of 100,000 hours of training. The company has maintained a 30 per cent Inuit workforce over the last five years, she said.

The Career Path program costs $250,000 of investment per employee from start to finish, said Desrocher.

The program can be effective. One employee, Natasha Nagyougalik, started as a dishwasher and now operates a 300 tonne hydraulic mining shovel, Desrocher said.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Northerners not ready to cash in on massive mine cleanup in Arctic Canada, report says, CBC News

Finland: Paper mill in northern Finland will cut up to 400 jobs, Yle News

Sweden: Scandinavian Airlines and pilots union reach agreement to end strike, Radio Sweden

Avery Zingel, CBC News

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