Labour Minister to meet Vale and striking Sudbury workers

30th June 2010 By: Matthew Hill

TORONTO ( – Ontario Labour Minister Peter Fonseca said late on Tuesday he will meet with Vale and the union representing its 3 000-plus striking Sudbury workers by the end of the week, after the latest round of talks fell apart.

The employees had been on strike since July 13 last year.

"The Minister of Labour will be contacting the parties immediately, and they will be asked to give an account on their inability to find a solution to this one remaining issue," the government stated.

In a brief statement released late on Tuesday, government-appointed mediator Kevin Burkett said that after "extensive mediation...the parties are deadlocked".

Shortly afterward, Vale responded by saying that the disputing sides "had a deal on all issues" a week ago, but that how the dismissal of eight fired workers would be submitted to the Ontario Labor Relations Board (OLRB) proved to be a sticking point.

"Regrettably, in the days that followed, the parties could not agree on how this submission to the OLRB would take place," Vale Ontario operations GM John Pollesel said on a website set up by the company to keep the over 3 000 striking workers informed.

The industrial action began almost a year ago, after Vale and the United Steelworkers Union (USW) could not agree on the payment level of a bonus attached to the nickel price, as well as pension issues.

This was the third round of mediated talks between Vale and the USW, which had begun on June 19.

Burkett said he regretted that a stalemate had been reached. "I have concluded that additional mediation efforts would not resolve this issue. Accordingly, I am terminating the mediation."

Though Pollesel said no further talks were scheduled "at this time", there was still hope a deal could be salvaged, despite Vale and the USW not being able to reach an accord on the eight dismissed workers.

"As far as we're concerned, all other matters remain agreed," said Pollesel.

Fonseca also said he was "encouraged that the parties have been able to resolve their differences on all but one outstanding issue".

"I will meet with each of the parties by the end of the week, to hear directly why they have been unable to come to agreement on the one remaining issue."

Nine employees of Vale (which was then known as Vale Inco) were dismissed after an investigation into allegations of threats and damage to property. The plight of these former workers had become a key point in the negotiations.

The USW did not immediately answer questions put to it by Mining Weekly Online, saying it would issue a media statement later.

The announcement by Burkett came as a surprise, after ten days of negotiations. On June 22, he issued a statement saying "considerable" progress had been made.

The mediator had imposed a media blackout on the latest round of talks, but ended this on Tuesday.

Vale workers had earlier this month told Mining Weekly Online that the company was calling foremen back to its Sudbury operations in preparation for the workforce to return.

Nickel prices have slid to $20 000/t from the 52-week highs of over $27 000/t reached in April.