Myra Falls Mine workers got a pre-holiday shock when they were called into a meeting in Campbell River this week only to hear their employer say the mine was not financially viable and had been shut down and the company was seeking creditor protection.
“Imagine being told that not only are you being laid off for Christmas with no notice, you’re not even sure if you’re going to get paid,” said Unifor representative Mario Santos, who represents 300 Myra Falls workers with Local 3019 as well as about 27,000 other Unifor members in the province.
“They are worried about their lives — what they’re going to do over Christmas. They’re worried about if this mine is even going to be around in a year.”
Many were “visibly upset,” he said, adding there’s a lot of anxiety and some are in a “pretty depressive state.”
Just 24 of the 300 Unifor members who were working at the underground mine — now idled with no potential startup date — will be kept on to maintain the site, he said.
The mine covers about 3,901 hectares about 90 kilometres southwest of Campbell River in rugged Strathcona Provincial Park.
The shutdown isn’t just disrupting workers’ lives, Santos said. Some mine creditors are locally owned businesses, and he fears some might be forced to shut down because they haven’t been paid.
“This is going to be devastating to the Campbell River area.”
Campbell River Mayor Kermit Dahl said in a statement the municipality “recognizes the significant impact this announcement will have on many residents, businesses and families in Campbell River, especially around the holidays.”
Dahl said the town’s focus is on supporting workers and affected local businesses, adding it has contacted the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation, which offers community services in times of change, to discuss ways to help.
Mary Ruth Snyder, executive director of the Campbell River and District Chamber of Commerce, called the closure “just horrendous” for the affected families.
But she said Campbell River’s business community is resilient, pointing out that during the pandemic, many retailers quickly switched to e-commerce to survive.
Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells said the timing “can’t be much worse” for the affected families, adding he’s encouraging other residents of the area to do what they can to help out those in need.
“We’ve had these big employers that have unfortunately closed down and every time that happens, it is certainly unfortunate.”
The company blames depressed metal prices and rising operating costs for financial woes at the 57-year-old mine. As of Tuesday, it had moved into a stage of long-term care and maintenance.
The Myra Falls underground mine produces copper, lead and zinc and some gold.
It has been shut down in the past, when it was owned by Nyrstar of Switzerland. It was sold in 2020 to Trafigura Mining Group of Singapore. It has six mineral leases and 23 Crown permit grants, as well as permits allowing access through Strathcona Park.
As well, the company leases a water lot in Campbell River next to Discovery Terminal.
Trafigura announced Monday it has sought creditor protection to enable the company to be restructured. FTI Consulting Canada Inc. is the court-appointed monitor.
Documents submitted to the court say the mine has total liabilities of $326 million and the net book value of assets is about $214 million.
Court documents said the company is insolvent and unable to pay liabilities from “increasingly strident” creditors, who are refusing to provide good and services. Some have removed their equipment.
Mine operations so far have been “completely dependent on shareholder loans from the Trafigura Group,” but that has come to an end, the company’s petition to the court says.
The key factor is the depressed price for zinc, which the company relies on to be profitable. That price is down 22 per cent on a year-over-year basis, the petition said, while operating costs climbed by 20 per cent from 2020 to 2023.
About 78 per cent of the mine’s concentrate production by weight is zinc. “With future zinc prices uncertain at this time, it is unclear when the mine might achieve profitability,” court documents say.
Santos said the union is hoping to work with the province to discuss next steps to support employees.
Workers could find jobs at other mines in the province but that would mean leaving Vancouver Island, Santos said.
The union was in the midst of bargaining for its next contract but no resolution had been reached. The previous contract expired in September.
Union members include heavy-equipment operators, health and safety officers and milling employees.
Infrastructure at the mine includes a surface crusher, processing plant, concentrate storage facility, two hydro-electric power plants, and an administration building.
Santos could not predict the future of the mine, saying it’s not uncommon for them to go into a temporary curtailment situation.