The wait continues
Giant pensioners want answers from feds

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 31/00) - Three Giant mine pensioners sit around the meeting table at the back of the room in the Giant Mine Transition Centre waiting to hear from the federal government.

All of them have given more than 20 years of their life to mining, and they want the government to help them get a little of what they put in. Eight months and a hunger strike later, no word has come from Ottawa concerning the fate of Giant mine pensioners and widows.

Giant mine pensioners and widows of workers -- who only receive 50 per cent of the pension -- lost 25 per cent of their monthly allowance on April 1 as a result of Royal Oak Mines' bankruptcy in October 1999.

Kurt Lehniger, who worked at the mine for 27 years, saw his monthly pension drop from $700 to $525.

"The whole thing is a big farce, a lot of talking, but nothing happening," said Lehniger.

The Giant mine pensioners have been waiting for Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew to go to bat for them.

On April 12, Blondin-Andrew said federal Labour Minister Claudette Bradshaw had committed to visit Yellowknife.

"It's absolutely off the radar," said NDP labour critic and MP Pat Martin, from his office in Ottawa. "I've heard nothing from Bradshaw."

According to Bob Haywood, president of the Northern Federation of Labour, Bradshaw is scheduled to visit the NWT this summer.

Miramar Mining bought Giant last December but chose to only honour the collective agreement of those Giant mine workers they re-hired.

Unlike some provinces, such as Ontario, which has jurisdiction over pension funds and a superfund in which all corporations contribute in case of a bankruptcy, the NWT pensions fall under federal jurisdiction. There is no safety net and workers are at the mercy of the federal Bankruptcy Act.

The Bankruptcy Act supersedes collective agreements and workers have no rights in the scramble for assets.

"Basically, workers are at the bottom of the pile," said Steve Petersen, Northern representative with Local 2304 of the Canadian Auto Workers.

"After all the secured creditors got their share, workers were left with $2 million to split," he said.

"What we'd like is for Miramar to take the liability surrounding the mine they bought," added Petersen.

In a May 1 letter to Martin, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Robert Nault said, "Miramar made it clear that it did not take on ... obligations (pensions) for which they were not legally responsible."

"Had DIAND tried to impose successor rights for severance and pensions, on a company with no legal responsibility to accept them, there simply would not have been a deal, and no employment of approximately 60 union and salaried workers."

For everyone sitting around the table, waiting is their only option.

"We bargained our collective agreement in 1976 in good faith. Our pensions are really just deferred payments," said Don McNenly, who retired after working 32 years at Giant.

"It's very frustrating, we haven't received any response from Blondin-Andrew or anyone else," he said.

Parliament is currently preoccupied with Cape Breton's Devco mines, which closed last year leaving 1,000 workers with no job and no pension.