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No talks planned in PotashCorp strike

(Resource News International) — Workers at three PotashCorp potash mines in Saskatchewan continue to strike with no plans between company and union officials to return to the bargaining table.

Limited production from the largest of the affected mines continues in the meantime, the Saskatoon-based fertilizer company says.

Nearly 490 workers have been on strike since Aug. 7 when discussions regarding contract re-negotiation broke-off. The workers are employed at PotashCorp’s Allan, Cory and Patience Lake mines in Saskatchewan and are responsible for underground mining operations, as well as milling and shipping activities on the surface. They are represented by the United Steelworkers (USW) locals 7689, 7458 and 189.

The union is requesting pay increases for its members as well as profit-sharing scheme including a bonus tied to commodity prices. The bonus has been a sticking point between the USW and PotashCorp.

As it currently stands, no new negotiation attempts have been made since they originally broke off and workers took to the picket lines. The union rejected PotashCorp’s offer and no new offer has been put on the bargaining table by the company.

“Very little has changed,” said Bill Johnson, director of public affairs for PotashCorp. “The two sides are still not at the bargaining table,” he continued.

“At some point we will need to get a deal done and at some point we will sit down with them but that time had not come yet,” Johnson added.

In the meantime, production continues at the Allan facility, the largest of the three mines affected by the strike. Potash mining and milling operations started up again Aug. 25 using managerial staff brought in from the other two facilities.

According to PotashCorp, contingency plans continue to be evaluated for the Cory and Patience Lake facilities, although production only occurs at the latter mine from October through May.

According to information provided by PotashCorp, the Allan, Cory and Patience Lake mines account for roughly 30 per cent of the company’s potash production.

Johnson said the company has not calculated how much production is coming out of the Allan mine since operations restarted there nearly one month ago, but he did say output was down from pre-strike levels.

For now, Johnson said there is enough inventory in the system that PotashCorp will be able to meet its customers’ fall demand.

He acknowledged, however, that agricultural demand, the company’s biggest market, typically picks up as producers head into their fields for fall fertilizer applications.

When the strike began in early August, that market was in a seasonal downturn and had been somewhat sheltered from the impact of the strike.

Johnson declined to comment, however, on how the strike would impact the company if it were to continue as seasonal demand increases.

“Without knowing how long the strike will continue, I’m not going to speculate about the future impact, but it is fair to say that this strike has removed product from the system and those tons cannot be replaced in the short term,” Johnson said.

“We are interested in seeing this strike resolved as quickly as possible but we’re also interested in seeing it resolved in a way that ensures the long-term viability of our company. We would like to have this resolved but not at the expense of the cost structure of our industry,” Johnson said.

USW officials were not available for comment.


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