Mothers Shift Will Not Be Flagshipped Through Anglo American’s PRC Operation

Lynsey Kitching
A few months back there was the potential for women with young children to have an opportunity to work in a mine with reduced hours. The possibility was created through the Mothers to Miners program in Tumbler Ridge offered through Northern Lights College (NLC) and their partnership with Anglo American’s Peace River Coal (PRC) operation.
 The idea was, to create a shift created specifically to work around mothers and their children’s needs. This shift would have been from nine to five on a five on, two off schedule.
After the program went through its cycle, this promise from PRC and NLC was not being met and a few of the mothers were left wondering what had happened. One of the mothers who finished up her course in June says, “Since taking the program, I haven’t heard from anybody at PRC that they didn’t go along with the mothers’ hours that the program funding was based upon. Nothing has happened, no one has contacted me.”
Most of the program graduates have children who are high school aged, or have children who have moved out. These women have been able to find employment and are working at the mine. 
However, they are working 12 hour shifts, instead of the eight hour shifts as they thought. For the mothers with young children who took this program, getting child care for the eight hour shift would have been difficult, but getting child care for a 12 hour shift would be almost impossible. 
One mother says, “For me and at least two other moms that was a big issue. It cost us money to bring in child care, and it cost us time to take the course for three months,” she continues, “There is nothing that has come of it, yet. Now, I don’t qualify for any government funding because I’ve used mine up. Now, I don’t have those sorts of options.”
Even though this mother hasn’t been given any communication, she is still very appreciative and happy to have taken the course. She says, “The things I learned through the Mining Fundamentals and the skills and tickets we got, those of course will at some point come in to be very handy. Those don’t go away, the training doesn’t go away, just the opportunity. Since graduation at the end of June, I hear different things through the college.”
The mother explains why completing this course was so motivational for her. “The reason I am disappointed is because we felt quite valued throughout the course. It was great to get me back into a different mode and get me prepared for the workforce,” she continues, “These mother hours are available in one mine in Australia and one or two in Europe. We were supposed to be the pioneers for this program in North America. We felt very empowered and valued by that.”
This particular mother, after essentially giving up on the mother shift, said she would in fact do the 12 hour shift, on one condition. Having had childcare setup when she first graduated, she eventually had to give up her children’s spots. “I did consider doing the 12 hour work shift, but I chose not to, because I had no childcare. I said I could work when my husband is off shift, so at least one of us is at home for the kids. I still have yet to hear from them.”
Even though she hasn’t gained employment at PRC, this mother is still happy to have learned more about the intricacies of the industry. She says, “It was great to learn how to drive a haul truck and the basics of mining, why we do it, the economics of it, all of those little tidbits. I think NLC was really good about upholding their end of the bargain. I’ve done my part, NLC has done their part, and if PRC are working on their part, it would be nice to know.”
Spokesperson for NLC Brad Lyon gave some comments about the course and the partnership they had with PRC. He says, “From the NLC perspective, our role in the process was being able to develop the course, offer it and provide the training. I know the graduates we turned out of this program came out with a high level of skill and an ability to step into jobs such as haul truck driving and similar careers in a mining operation.”
At this point, there are no plans for more Mothers to Miners programs to begin. Lyon says, “I don’t believe wehave any more intakes of the program scheduled. We offered the Mothers to Miners program through some special funding from the government of BC so we only had funding for a certain number of intakes for the program. It was a program developed as an offshoot of the Mining Fundamentals program. It was also offered through some special funding through Northeast Aboriginal Skills and Employment partnership. It is the type of program we can’t offer if we don’t have an industry partner.”
NLC is always looking for new partnerships and programming, but say while the program was running PRC was an asset. Lyon says, “As we were running the program they [PRC] were a great partner. They were involved with day to day operations of the program and provided staff to help out as needed for advice and consultation.”
The idea behind the project for NLC was to provide workers for an area where there was a labour shortage. Lyon says, “As we were offering the program, it was a very worthwhile project and certainly there was great feedback. We were trying to be part of a unique solution to dealing with an area where there was a labour shortage and find a relatively new area to be able to draw from to help solve that need.”
As for most of the graduates from the Mothers to Miners program, they are working and happy to do so. Lyon says, “We keep in touch with graduates, and the general feedback we’ve had is that yes, things haven’t emerged quite as we hoped  with that specific mothers shift but the majority are working, happy, getting good hours and good pay for doing a good job.”
What about PRC? Lyon says, “I wouldn’t comment on the internal working of PRC, but in our dealings with them, there was nothing but positives in what we were able to do with them for this project.”
Though Lyon can’t comment on PRC’s inter—workings, a representative from Anglo American can. He says the initial nine to five shift proposed through the program will not be happening at PRC. “Right now, the initial proposal of the program was based on a nine to five schedule, and unfortunately, that hasn’t proven to be effective for our PRC operations. We have decided the program itself is not going to be offered again in that configuration.” 
He continues, “However, out of the first program, we had eight people recruited. We have two of the nine participants working on a six and six, 12 hour shift, straight days. Those will be changed in the future to the regular rotation. Six of the graduates are working on a six and six, days and nights 12 hour shift, which is a regular rotation we have. Out of the nine participants in the program we have eight who are working and have accepted the rotation that has been proposed.”
The reason for the hold up in communication and why this shift will not be happening is also due to restructuring at the Vancouver Anglo American office. The representative says, “At this point, we are doing some restructuring. It would be irresponsible for us to start working with programs when we want to make sure we can retain as many people as we can. Here in our office in Vancouver, our project management has been restructured. These are the people in charge of creating future programs. Basically, that is where the restructuring is occurring.”
The restructuring at Anglo American is up in the air, and a big component to this situation is the coal prices. The representative says, “Basically we have to see what’s going to happen. A big component to this is the coal prices, and where the trends are going with that. The impact of the coal prices is pretty significant.”
This reality has begun to trickle down to the PRC mine itself. The representative explains, “There have been a few reductions at the site. There have been a few impacts at site and there have been a few people who have been let go because of the economic impacts of the coal prices. We are hoping the coal prices will once again rise and we can re-engage our work load. At this point it will remain as-is until we see a better reaction in the coal prices.”
The representative didn’t have an exact number of people who have been let go, as of now.
So there is the answer. The question is: now what? Lyon says even though the opportunities might not be there for mothers with young children at the mine, there are other options out there. He says, “The students who came out of the program have their safety tickets, which are good for a variety of employment. It goes beyond the training for the specific job at PRC or in a mining operation. That is a benefit.”
Lyon explains other options for these mothers. He says, “In the Oil and Gas industry, in the mining industry, things like first-aid tickets and a general package of a few safety tickets, lends good opportunity to look for work in a variety of areas. One of the things that industry is looking for is people with safety tickets and training, because once they’re hired, they can hit the ground running and generally it’s a matter of providing the training needed for a specific job.”