The Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) took a stand against worker absenteeism over the holidays, issuing three-day suspensions to an estimated 150 workers, apparently over attendance issues.
The Telegram investigated after receiving an email from a mine employee.
The action is being tied to efforts to reduce operating costs and maximize productivity, given the challenge of current iron ore prices. That includes making sure workers are punching in and out as per schedule.
In a mid-December memo titled “Absenteeism during the holidays,” IOC executives directly warned their employees about missing work.
“In supporting IOC’s survival during the most challenging time we’ve seen in decades, you are supporting the livelihoods of an entire community of family and friends,” it stated.
Workers were told to expect suspensions if they played hooky.
“Employees who miss a shift at this critical time of year must understand that this choice will have an even greater negative impact on the business given the peak vacation at this time. Employees who miss shifts will be subject to disciplinary measures which, more likely than not, will result in a minimum of a three-day suspension.”
United Steelworkers Local 5795 president Ron Thomas issued a heavy sigh when asked Tuesday about the memo and suspensions.
“Yeah,” Thomas said. “We’ve been dealing with it.”
Pressed for a number, he estimated upwards of 150 people were affected, claiming the majority of suspensions were not justified.
“We have one gentleman that got five years in, just got a letter from the company congratulating him for perfect attendance and (being) a great employee. The next week he got the stomach flu, called in sick and did everything the way he was supposed to and he was given a three-day suspension.”
Thomas described the case of another union member who had an allergic reaction while on the job, was put off work for a few days by a doctor, but was issued a suspension by the company when they missed their scheduled shift.
“We even had a gentleman with permission from his own supervisor to have the day off and he was suspended,” Thomas said.
He suggested one in 50 suspensions would be cases wherein workers actually did not follow company protocol.
“And if there was discipline that was warranted, even their own policy would state that you start off with a verbal warning, then it goes to a written, then there’s a day to three-day suspension. Right off the bat, they just jumped to the three-day suspension,” he said.
Employees were told to go home when they showed up for their next shift, he said, or they received a letter in the mail with notice of their suspension.
Thomas said the union has filed grievances on individual cases, in addition to a policy grievance filed when the company’s pre-holiday memo was first issued. But he expressed little hope of immediate resolution.
“We’re right now at probably 3,000 grievances,” he said of outstanding issues with the company.
In January 2015, the province’s New Democratic Party issued a statement on what it referred to as “worsening labour relations” at the IOC operation, based on a stated 2,500 outstanding union grievances.
“If they’re going to shut down, they’re going to shut down,” Thomas said. “It is an unfortunate thing, but what really upsets me is when they go about their business to do something that is not cost savings, it goes against government standards and it goes against our collective agreement and they’re just actually doing whatever they want to do.”
The Telegram tried to contact IOC, by phone and email, but there was no response as of deadline.
IOC employs about 2,500 people. The operation is managed by Rio Tinto Iron Ore and is a joint venture between Rio Tinto (58.7 per cent), Mitsubishi (26.2 per cent) and the Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Income Corp. (15.1 per cent).