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UPDATE: Vale Inco in Sudbury and Sandy Pond

Vale Inco started constructing a nickel processing plant at Long Harbour in Newfoundland in April 2009.

The $2.2 billion plant – to be completed in 2013 – will process nickel from the company’s operations in Voisey’s Bay and dump approximately 400,000 tonnes of tailings annually into Sandy Pond, a 30-hectare freshwater lake.

This destruction of Sandy Pond is possible because of the ‘Schedule 2’ exemption in the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations of the federal Fisheries Act.

What do we know about Vale Inco in Canada?

The experience of the 3,100 workers of Local 6500 of the United Steelworkers, who have been on strike against Vale Inco in Sudbury since July 2009, tells us a lot about the company.

The April 2010 issue of Report on Business magazine reports that, “Vale wants to have the same style of operation (in Sudbury) that it has in the rest of the world.” But while Inco mines “go down two kilometres from the surface” in Sudbury, “most of (Vale’s) other mining operations are open pits, worked by relatively unskilled employees.”

But Vale Inco has made it clear that, “workers in Sudbury can expect the same kind of contract that Vale workers get elsewhere in the world.”

What does that mean?

“A (Vale Inco) strategy workshop held a month before the (July 2009) walkout complained that mining costs in Sudbury are 50% to 100% higher than corresponding ‘world-class mines’. The report from the workshop said it now costs Vale between $4 and $5 to produce a pound of nickel. That cost, it said, should be lowered to the $2.50 level. Assessing Sudbury and costs in the world-class mines, the document said, ‘The differences are largely in numbers of direct employees’.”

“(In Sudbury), Vale (also) wanted to end the Inco defined pension plan and move to a less onerous defined contribution plan, such as the one Vale miners at Voisey’s Bay have. Next on the list of changes was a reduction of the profit-sharing plan known as the nickel bonus…”

“An unexpected and perhaps annoying jolt for (Vale) came in January from the trade magazine Metal Bulletin. Regarded by some as the bible of the metals industry, the magazine bluntly described Vale’s hard line as an attempt to break the union.”

All this from a company that made $4.2 billion in profits in 2007-08, and that has $21 billion in current assets.

And this is the company that has created the expectation of jobs and prosperity for the people of Long Harbour through the destruction of their freshwater lake.

For information on the Council of Canadians campaign against Schedule 2 and the destruction of Sandy Pond, please go to