The final shift at Cameco's Key Lake and McArthur River uranium operations is wrapping up, which will leave a total of 845 people out of work for an expected 10-month lay-off.
One shift packed their bags last week and the remaining half of the workforce will vacate the site by the weekend leaving only a care and maintenance crew.
While the lay-offs, announced in November, will leave many unsure of their future, the company has come up with a plan they hope will ensure those skilled workers are still around if and when the doors re-open late this year.
“We’re offering a supplemental unemployment benefit program for employees who will be receiving employment insurance,” Cameco spokesperson Carey Hyndman told paNOW. “The plan will top them up to 75 per cent of their wage.” Hyndman said they were offering the benefit in hopes the workforce would return once the current downturn in the uranium market eased. But she couldn’t say if the 10-month timeframe for closure could change.
“It’s difficult to tell right now,” she said. "I think it’s one of those things that as we draw down the inventory over the 10 months we may see some movement and that’s our hope, that we’ll see improvements in market conditions.”
That prospect will come as little consolation to the workforce.
“The morale is low; people feel very uncertain of their future," acting president for United Steelworkers Local 8914 Denis O’Hara told paNOW. “Many have expressed they’re going to be looking for other permanent employment because their trust in Cameco is broken, and that’s disheartening.”
O’Hara said while they were very grateful for the top-up plan and acknowledged the company didn’t have to do that, he noted employees, families and communities would be impacted.
“Some have adjusted to a lifestyle of living on 100 per cent of their salary and the 75 per cent just isn’t going to cover it," he said. O’Hara wasn’t able to disclose what an average salary was or what sort of dollar dent the 25 per cent would entail for the average worker.
There is some hope for job seekers though. O’Hara said work was available for tradespeople through different union halls and contracting firms and there was talk of people delving into the oil industry which was slowly gaining momentum. Others, he said would seek employment in exploration and drilling but he didn’t hold any hope of the Cameco lay-offs being less than 10 months.
“There’s only one reason to believe that it will be 10 months is because every discussion I’ve been involved with, the company is claiming it’s 10 months …although I do understand why some employees fear it could go longer,” he said.
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