Thursday, August 20, 2009

As the strike against Vale Inco facilities in Sudbury, Port Colborne and Voisey's bay continues, with no foreseeable resolution, management has begun to "train" supervisory personnel in production skills, with the obvious goal of having a contingent of people able to "instruct" future scab labour. To say the least this is likely to result in some potentially unsafe situations. Here's a story about what is happening with this from the Sudbury Star. The following came to Molly's attention via the strike support site Fair Deal Now.
Steelworkers fear for safety if production restarts during labour dispute
About a dozen non-union employees with Vale Inco Ltd. are taking part in train-the-trainer sessions at the company's nickel refinery this week to become qualified to train others in mining skills, says a Vale Inco spokesman.

Steve Ball said the company is running the sessions as part of Vale Inco's contingency plans related to the current strike.

More than 3,050 production and maintenance workers in Sudbury and about 130 in Port Colborne, members of United Steelworkers Locals 6500 and 6200, went on strike July 13 after three months of negotiations failed to produce a new collective agreement.

Ball confirmed Tuesday that "a variety of people" are being trained to conduct future instruction in "a variety of skills." Some of those nonunion employees may be called upon later to do the job of striking Steelworkers.

Vale Inco "is not ruling out that possibility," Ball said.

"We are continuing to explore all of our options and we're not closing the door on anything -- including resuming some degree of operations," said Ball.

The former South Mine manager said he wasn't certain who was attending the training sessions or if more sessions would be held as required by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The ministry requires that "people get qualified in work, in mining plants, by qualified instructors," said Ball.

He said Vale Inco would look at "what we think the business needs. Right now, we've started one train-the-trainer session."

Vale Inco, previously Inco Ltd., has never before operated its plants during labour disputes. Ball said in previous strikes, operations basically stopped overnight and staff ran them for care and maintenance only.

"So we have run them in some fashion before. And as I said, we're just reviewing all options right now."

Running its operations for production "has not been ruled out," Ball said.

USW Local 6500 president John Fera said his union was trying to get to the truth behind speculation that managers and staff were being trained to do strikers' jobs.

"There's always a possibility," said Fera, adding: "These are highly skilled jobs. It takes a lot of training not only to run a production unit, but to safely run a production unit.

"Anybody can push a button," said the union chief, "but it takes trained personnel to make sure a machine runs safely."

Fera said Vale Inco officials would be concerned about the quality of the product the company was turning out if they had people who weren't skilled controlling production.

But Fera said the current labour dispute "doesn't seem to be about production or the price of nickel for Vale. So you really never know what they're going to try. But I think they would certainly know what the response of the community would be."

Getting nickel ore from underground operations through crushes and mills, smelters and refineries, is a complicated process, said Fera.

"If you have people that are unfamiliar, it becomes a very dangerous practice. These are not candy factories that we work in ... you know how hard the Steelworkers work at making better workplaces, safer workplaces.

"I think it would say something about Vale if they disregarded all that work that's been done and tried to put people in there who really didn't have the qualifications," said Fera.

Ball said there is plenty of "speculation and rumour about what limited operations means to different people. And in what order operations might resume. So, as I said, we're considering all options and what would be in the best interests of our business. So at this time, all options are under review."

Members of Locals 6500 and 6200, which bargain together with Vale Inco, said they rejected the company's settlement offer because it contained concessions, such as a less desirable pension plan for new hires, reduced nickel bonuses and limits on seniority transfers to different workplaces.

Vale Inco official have maintained the aim of their proposal was to preserve the company's financial viability and remain cash positive in all business cycles.

For more about both sides in the dispute, visit the USW website www.fairdealnow.caor Vale Inco's

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