The temporary closure of two Cameco mines could see tens of millions of dollars in income disappear from northern communities.
Pam Schwann the president of the Saskatchewan Mining Association said the average annual salary is $80,000 and Indigenous communities will be particularly hard hit. Over 800 employees will be impacted by the ten-month closures at the Key Lake and McArthur River uranium mines, announced this week because of dwindling prices in the commodity.
“Fifty per cent of Cameco and Areva’s direct employees are northern-based and around 85 per cent of those residents are Indigenous,” Schwann said. “And the same holds true with their contractor base.”
It was not clear where those employees would be able to find work in 2018 as they wait out the Cameco closures. Schwann said there has been diversification among contractors who started with northern mining companies and have now moved into mining and non-mining work at southern Saskatchewan operations. She thought that might offer some job prospects, along with the planned expansion to the Seabee gold mine north east of La Ronge. But she conceded with the number of employees affected at Cameco, there would not be enough work to fill that void.
“I think there will be some [job opportunities], but I certainly think this will be hard felt in communities and by contractors who do great work,” Schwann said. “I’m not sure what other opportunities there will be in the North right now.”
The knock-on effect of the Cameco closures, which happen in January, will be felt by secondary industry, suppliers and services beyond Saskatchewan’s north.
One such example is West Wind Aviation which runs regular charter flights from southern Saskatchewan to the northern mines. Although they couldn’t give precise numbers out of Prince Albert, the company said they transport “several thousand” workers each week on their Saskatoon-Prince Albert-La Ronge and Buffalo Narrows-Athabasca Basin flight lanes.
“Cameco is a very significant customer of ours,” Dennis Baranieski said, VP of business development and corporate services.” He said while the company fully supports the mine’s need to make their business decisions, they were awaiting word on just what sort of impact the lay-offs might mean to them. Several employees will still be needed for maintenance purposes at the mines despite the closures.
“We’re anxious to understand what the plan is going forward for the movement of individuals,” Baranieski said and noted it was too early to say if regular flights might need to be grounded.
“We think there might be some change to the frequency into some of the operations, but at this point in time we’ve communicated with our staff that we don’t anticipate any significant changes. But we await further information.”
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