Company, training society find Meadowbank families need lots of help
Impact of the jobs on family life emerging as a public issue
MEADOWBANK MINE — Jacintha Kingilik called her three-year-old daughter from work the other day. It didn’t end well.
Kingilik, who has worked as a housekeeper at Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank mine since 2010, has had to get used to being away from her daughter two weeks at a time.
But when she was on the phone with her recently, the little girl broke into tears, saying she missed her mom. Kingilik’s mother, who cares for the little girl at a home in Baker Lake, took the phone away.
“Now my mom doesn’t want me to call home, because it gets my daughter upset,” said Kingilik.
“I wish there could be a daycare here,” she said. “But I know that wouldn’t work… she would keep me up at night.”
While Kingilik has childcare support from her parents in Baker Lake, not all of the mine’s Nunavummiut staff does.
Winnie Aningaat, another housekeeper, is raising eight children at home in Baker Lake.
Her 17-year-old daughter watches the young ones while she’s away at Meadowbank.
Aningaat has suffered much trauma in recent years; first, the sudden death of her husband, and then, the suicide of one of her sons.
After her husband’s death, Aningaat stopped working at Meadowbank for a while.
“But I couldn’t find work at home, and I couldn’t go on welfare,” she said. “I was having a hard time feeding them.”
“I keep asking my girls do they want me at work or do they want me to stay home,” she said. “They know I’m the only one who can make money. It’s hard to leave them, but I have no choice.”
Aningaat said it’s hard even to know what kind of help to ask for sometimes.
“I don’t know anything now,” she said. “I was with my husband for 33 years and he always helped me.”
How a job might affect an employee’s personal life has traditionally been an issue that stays in the household. But in the Kivalliq communities which supply staff to Meadowbank, it’s gaining publicity.
“A new big trend now is a lot of people in the mine industry are realizing that the need to support families is really important,” said Nancy Carlson, program director at the Kivalliq Mine Training Society.
While the society’s focus is generally on helping Nunavummiut gain the skills they need to get hired in the industry, Carlson said that skills and emotional support go hand-in-hand.
“A huge factor on (staff) turnover is the stress of the work schedule on the family,” she said.
One of the projects the KMTS has helped to launch in recent months is a sewing group for spouses of mine workers. In a few Kivalliq communities, the society supplies child care and sewing materials to give women a chance to occasionally gather and chat in the evening.
It’s a chance to find support among other mothers who are at home alone for six months of the year, and often caring for multiple children.
“It’s just to acknowledge that it’s hard,” Carlson said. “Without the support of their family, employees might not last.”
Given that many of Meadowbank’s employees are themselves mothers, KMTS is assessing what families need and also what’s appropriate for the organization to support.
Carlson acknowledges the tension, fear and jealously that arise when a spouse is away working for two weeks at a time — those issues are difficult for an outside organization to address.
One of the issues identified in a recent study focused on the impacts of mining on Baker Lake women was the strain on couples’ relationships.
Researchers with Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada and the University of British Columbia found through discussions with RCMP in Baker Lake that the jealousies created by having a partner working away from home for weeks at a time can lead to an increase in domestic abuse files.
As part of an ongoing project, Nadia Aaruaq, a Baker Lake-based researcher with Pauktuutit, sat down to speak with a number of local women — former or current employees, and some who’ve never worked at the mine.
Aaruaq said the sessions are usually emotional.
“They talk about how they were treated at work, how the land has changed and what it’s like coming home (after two weeks at the mine),” she said. “A lot say that married couples are starting to break up.”
Meadowbank’s owner, Agnico Eagle Mines, is aware of that disconnect felt by its workers and their families, said Krystel Mayrand, the human resources superintendent at Meadowbank.
The 14-day on, 14-day off work schedule at Meadowbank is a first for Agnico Eagle, she said. And while it’s helped to attract employees, it also puts a stress on home and family life when one spouse or parent is away.
“That was identified as an issue,” Mayrand said. “They can be very successful at work, but if they have problems at home, that impacts work life.”
So the mine’s human resources department is trying to re-jig some of its programs to offer more support to Kivalliq families.
As part of its Work Readiness program, the company says it’s trying to integrate the future employee’s family in the process.
At the end of the week-long program, participants’ families are invited to come to a barbecue so they can network with other families.
While the mine already has a program in place to bring employees’ spouses to visit Meadowbank, Mayrand said they’d like to start bringing them in at the time a person is hired.
“To show them that it’s a controlled work environment, that people work and then relax in the evening, there aren’t any parties,” she said. “We think that will help [stop] the rumours about affairs.”
Mayrand said her department is also looking at offering part-time baby-sitting services in some of the Kivalliq communities to offer spouses of mine workers a break from parenting.
Blandina Kashla, a haul truck driver at Meadowbank, offers another suggestion: a faster internet connection on site.
“It would be easier to actually see our children, but the bandwidth isn’t strong enough to use webcams,” said Kashla, whose 13-year-old daughter lives in Ottawa, where they recently relocated from Baker Lake.
“It would be nice to use Skype or Facebook chat to get a better idea of how our kids are doing.”