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Cameco’s Mine McArthur River mine.


The last of 845 employees facing a 10-month layoff at two uranium operations in northern Saskatchewan will have worked their last shift by the weekend.

Cameco announced the shutdown at its Key Lake mill and McArthur River mine in November.

Only care and maintenance crew will remain.

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The company says it has finalized a plan it hopes will ensure skilled workers are still around if and when the doors reopen late this year.

Spokeswoman Carey Hyndman says Cameco is offering to top up the amount workers will receive from employment insurance up to 75 per cent of their wages.

A union spokesman says that's little consolation to the workforce.

"The morale is low. People feel very uncertain of their future," said Denis O'Hara, acting president for United Steelworkers Local 8914.

"Many have expressed they're going to be looking for other permanent employment because their trust in Cameco is broken."

Hyndman said Cameco is offering the benefit in the hope that workers will return once the current downturn in the uranium market eases. But she couldn't say if the 10-month time frame for the layoff could change.

"It's difficult to tell right now," she said. "It's one of those things that as we draw down the inventory over the 10 months we may see some movement ... we'll see improvements in market conditions."

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O'Hara said workers are grateful for the top-up plan and he acknowledged that the company didn't have to do that. But he added that employees, families and communities will be affected.

"Some have adjusted to a lifestyle of living on 100 per cent of their salary and the 75 per cent just isn't going to cover it."

O'Hara wasn't able to disclose what an average salary is.

There is some hope for job-seekers, he suggested. Work has been available for tradespeople through different union halls and contracting firms, and the oil industry is slowly gaining momentum. Some may seek employment in exploration and drilling.

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