Mosaic lays off hundreds at Colonsay, Sask. potash mine

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WATCH ABOVE: More than 300 workers at the Mosaic Colonsay potash mine in Saskatchewan have been given temporary layoffs. The company blames world markets but the union isn’t so sure that’s the reason. Jacqueline Wilson reports.

Mosaic has given temporary layoff notices to more than 300 unionized workers as it moves to idle production at its Colonsay, Sask. potash mine for the remainder of 2016.

“We came to work this morning, as normal at 6:30 a.m. or so. We walked into the front office and they stopped us at the front gate and escorted us to the conference room,” recalled laid-off employee Blaine Bracke.

“They came in and they told us as of right now we’re laid off, the mine is shut down until January sometime.”

READ MORE: Saskatchewan potash companies lack major 2016 supply deal

A spokesperson for the United Steelworkers Union says it happened during the shift change Wednesday morning at the mine about 70 kilometers east of Saskatoon.

“This was devastating to us at Colonsay,” said Mike Pulak, United Steelworkers staff representative.

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The company is blaming poor potash sales.

“We continue to execute the difficult but necessary actions to ensure Mosaic will be as competitive as possible across the business cycle,” Joc O’Rourke, president and CEO of Mosaic, said in a release.

“Lower global potash demand and market prices require that we curtail production. Idling Colonsay will enable us to meet our customers’ needs while reducing our production costs.”

Mosaic officials said it will rely on its lower-cost Esterhazy and Belle Plaine mines in Saskatchewan for potash production during a down market for the fertilizer.

“The Esterhazy and Bell Plaine facilities are much larger. They just have the capability of producing so much more tonnage. From a cost per tonne standpoint they’re actually a much lower cost to run than our Colonsay mine,” said Mosaic public affairs senior director Sarah Fedorchuk.

Annual production at the Colonsay mine is 2.6 million tonnes.

Pulak said approximately 332 jobs were cut, with only 32 unionized workers being kept on to maintain the mine.

READ MORE: Cameco cuts could be felt across Saskatchewan’s mining sector

He added workers have been told they can expect to return to their jobs on Jan. 3, 2017, but that the date could change.

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Pulak suspects the job cuts could be in response to workers at Colonsay overwhelmingly voting down the company’s latest contract offer on Monday.

“My gut is this is a bargaining tactic to scare our members. Tell them that they’re out of work and scare them into concessions,” Pulak said.

However, Mosaic staff deny that claim.

“I can say that absolutely in no way was this related to our current bargaining climate with the union,” Fedorchuk said.

Unionized workers at the Colonsay mine have been without a contract for 15 months.

With files from Jacqueline Wilson and The Canadian Press