TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – The United Steelworkers (USW) union said on Friday that a recent contract agreement between Xstrata Nickel and its Sudbury workers should send Vale Inco back to the bargaining table with its own striking employees, but the company responded that a deal signed by another company had nothing to do with its own situation.
More than 3 000 Vale Inco employees in Sudbury, Ontario, downed tools in July last year after contract talks between the company and the USW broke down.
There are currently no talks scheduled between the parties.
Xstrata Nickel's workers voted in January to approve a strike mandate if an agreement was not reached before the current three-year contract expired at midnight on January 31, but negotiators were able to strike a deal early on Monday morning, after working through the night.
"There's no reason why a successful conclusion can't be reached with our members," said USW Local 6500 president John Fera.
There is no reason Vale cannot make a similar offer to that of Xstrata, he said in a statement.
"Hopefully, Vale will see this as an opportunity to restart meaningful negotiations. As we have said countless times, the Steelworkers are prepared to resume negotiations at a moment's notice, with absolutely no preconditions," Fera said.
However, Vale said in a statement posted on the Internet that the agreement between Xstrata and the Canadian Auto Workers union was achieved in a different context to Vale's situation.
“It was inevitable that some would seek to make comparisons, but a contract signed by a different union and a different company governing a different business model has no bearing on our situation whatsoever,” the company said.
Xstrata currently only operates one mine in Sudbury (it agreed to restart a second as part of the deal struck with the CAW), as well as a mill and smelter.
Vale Inco, on the other hand, has six mines, a mill, a smelter and a refinery in the region.
The Brazilian-owned miner said that it needs to ensure the Sudbury operations are profitable to continue investing in future projects.
“Our operations are extensive – from ore to refined product. Our potential for future investments is very good. However, we must earn the capital required to make these investments a reality – and we need a competitive business model to do so,” it argued.
The two main issues of contention are Vale's proposed changes to employees' nickel bonus structures, and to the pension plan.
In its statement on Friday, the USW also quoted Sudbury mayor John Rodriguez as urging the union and Vale Inco to resume talks.
"Clearly, it is in the best interests of Vale Inco, the United Steelworkers and our community, for the parties to resume good-faith negotiations to find solutions to the outstanding issues," Rodriguez is quoted as saying.
Relations between Vale Inco and the striking workers have grown increasingly bitter, particularly after Vale restarted mining, milling and most recently smelting operations, using nonstriking workers.
The firm said earlier this week it will ramp up mining operations, and will likely make use of contractors to do so. The first shipment of nickel matte left the smelter on Thursday, spokesperson Cory McPhee told Mining Weekly Online later on Friday.
Vale, the world's second-largest mining company, bought Canadian nickel-miner Inco in 2007.