Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut October 10, 2017 - 8:00 am

Inuit org hopes to boost Inuit job numbers at Mary River

QIA aims for 25 per cent Inuit employment by 2020 at North Baffin iron mine

BETH BROWN
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association's director of major projects, Stephen Williamson Bathory, presents an update on the Mary River IIBA during an annual general meeting Oct. 5. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association's director of major projects, Stephen Williamson Bathory, presents an update on the Mary River IIBA during an annual general meeting Oct. 5. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Over the next three years, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association aims to double the proportion of Inuit employed at the Mary River iron mine, located about 150 kilometres southwest of Pond Inlet and operated by Baffinland Iron Mines Corp, a QIA official said Oct. 5.

As of this this year, only 12.9 per cent of employees at the Mary River mine are Inuit. That percentage is roughly half of the 25 per cent Inuit employment target that Baffinland and the QIA agreed they would reach by 2016 and 2017 in their 2013 Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement.

But the Inuit organization now plans to reach the 25 per cent benchmark by 2020—with the cooperation of Baffinland—though a new strategic plan and more vigorous training efforts.

“It’s not just, ‘Have we hit the number?’ but, ‘How do we hit the number?’” Stephen Williamson Bathory, the director of the QIA’s department of major projects, said during an update on the Mary River IIBA at the QIA’s annual general meeting, Oct. 5. 

The update included a report that came out of an annual review forum held in Arctic Bay this past spring.

The employment gap represents about $9 million in lost wages for Inuit, the QIA said.

But now that the QIA and Baffinland have nearly finished a joint human resources strategy, issues addressed at the forum—such as hiring, career advancement, job retention and training—can be more easily measured, Williamson Bathory said.

“We now have the tools where we can measure Baffinland’s action… We can measure compliance of the IIBA,” Williamson Bathory said.

He also said that employment goals under the IIBA are past the conceptual stage.

“We have to have actions. We have to take specific steps,” he said. 

Through upcoming community visits, the QIA plans to develop a database of people interested in jobs at Mary River, with their skills.

A similar survey, done in 2013 when the IIBA was negotiated, identified 1,200 Inuit who were interested in jobs at the mine. But the training and even pre-training steps needed to get all those people into jobs didn’t work out.

“We’ve heard that people have sent out resumes and never heard back,” he said. 

To fix this communications problem, new computers are being placed in some offices used by community liaison officers, or CLOs, so that community members can use them to apply for jobs.

“We’re seeing the importance of having to communicate more often with communities,” IIBA manager Rebecca Mearns said during the update. 

While Iqaluit and the five communities closest to the mine—Hall Beach, Igloolik, Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet and Clyde River—are given priority for hiring, QIA board member Levi Barnabas said Inuit from all areas must be recruited if there is any hope of meeting or exceeding the 25 per cent target.

The QIA will also conduct interviews with current Inuit staff at Baffinland, to ensure Inuit are being respected on the job, that workplace conditions are appropriate and that language is not a barrier. 

“Language should not keep anybody from working there,” Barnabas said.

One rule within the IIBA is that vacant positions must be filled with an Inuit person 100 per cent of the time if the previous employee who held the job was Inuit, or 50 per cent of the time if they were non-Inuit.

“The bubble we are trying to break through is getting Inuit in skilled positions,” Williamson Bathory said. 

Baffinland is also currently pushing to have Inuit employees who are qualified for multiple roles, “so they can move within the project,” he said. 

The company hopes to have 20 to 30 such employees trained for multiple roles at the mine site.

As for the overall progress of the IIBA implementation, “it’s nowhere near where we want to be, and the company agrees,” Williamson Bathory said.

An arbitration panel, in July, ordered Baffinland to pay QIA $7.2 million in back royalties.

“Now that arbitration has passed we also have a Baffinland commitment to work in this area,” Williamson Bathory said.

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