Mines seek local labour

Work at the Minto mine has gone underground. Underground operations at Capstone Mining Corp.'s copper-gold mine in central Yukon began in September, said Ron Light, the company's general manager.

Work at the Minto mine has gone underground.

Underground operations at Capstone Mining Corp.‘s copper-gold mine in central Yukon began in September, said Ron Light, the company’s general manager.

That should allow the mine, which opened as an open-pit operation in 2007, to operate for another decade, Light told a crowd at the Yukon Geoscience Forum. And there could be more exploration work done after that, he said.

The Minto mine is expected to produce 38 million tonnes of copper this year, said Light. Right now, it produces 3,600 tonnes of copper a day, along with gold and silver byproducts. There are currently 14.4 million tonnes of copper in reserves, he said.

Plans are being made for phases five and six in the northern part of the mine. The company is still waiting for approval from government regulatory boards, he said.

This future work will involve more underground mining, he said.

And this requires employees with specialized training. The company offers a 700-hour training program in underground mining. It is developing partnerships with Yukon College and Yukon Mine Producers Group to teach mining skills.

Developing a skilled workforce is a priority for the territory’s three operating mines, the forum heard.

Hiring locally reduces companies’ costs. On average, mining companies spend just over $1,300 a month on transportation for each worker from Outside. Transportation for employees who live here costs just over $200 monthly.

In 2012, 404 of the 977 people working at the territory’s mines were Yukoners. Between 2013 and 2017, around 1,062 people are expected to work in mines each year. About 43 per cent of these workers will be from the territory.

The Yukon’s small workforce is a challenge, said Brad Thrall, executive vice-president from Alexco Resources Corp., which operates silver mines near Keno.

Almost half of Alexco’s costs are spent on employees. Most of its workers fly in and out on two-week rotations. It has more than 150 employees in the Yukon and 120 contract jobs.

The Bellekeno mine produces 250 tonnes of silver a day. The underground mine has a four-year life. The company hopes to begin production at the Onek mine early next year. It has a three-year mine life.

As mines continue production, workers need different skills, said Don Strickland, general manager of Yukon Zinc Corp., which runs the Wolverine silver and zinc mine north of Watson Lake.

“It’s not just about hiring labourers to help out with construction and short-term contracts. It’s hiring someone for theoretically 10 years, and going to work everyday day-in and day-out,” said Strickland.

Commercial production began at the Wolverine mine early this year. The underground mine produces 1,600 tonnes of ore daily. The full production capacity is 1,700 tonnes. Yukon Zinc hopes to reach that point early next year, said Strickland.

The mine employs about 350 people.

“As a producers’ group, we’re focused on how do we develop those skills in the Yukon instead of importing those skills from other traditional mining areas, like Timmins, Sudbury, Newfoundland – those areas where there’s a long history of underground mining. Fortunately, we had a good industry of underground mining, but it was a 100 years ago,” he said.

The three companies expressed their commitment to working with First Nations.

This week, Capstone is holding a job fair in Pelly Crossing. It is also developing a heavy-equipment operator program with the Selkirk First Nation. Seven per cent of the company’s 316 employees come from the First Nation.

Capstone’s relationship with the Selkirk First Nation “seems to be getting better and better,” said Light.

Right now, there are 142 First Nation employees in Yukon mines. Between 2013 and 2017, there are expected to be 202 First Nation employees each year.

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