Potash Corp tells workers to take deal amid turmoil

Fri Oct 10, 2008 3:30pm EDT
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By Roberta Rampton

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Potash Corp of Saskatchewan has urged striking miners to accept its latest contract offer because the global economic crisis could make it hard to justify its proposed wage and pension increases in the future.

In letters to striking employees dated October 8, Garth Moore, president of the potash division at the world's largest fertilizer producer, described the "significant financial turmoil" that has hurt businesses, governments and jobs.

"In this uncertain current global environment, we cannot provide assurance as to how long we can continue to justify our outstanding contract offer," Moore wrote in the letters.

"Our offer remains on the table for now, and we would like to see you vote on it," Moore said.

The Steelworkers union accused Potash Corp of trying to circumvent the legal bargaining process by sending the letters, and said it may consider filing an official complaint about "bad faith bargaining," spokesman Roger Falconer said.

The company should not have told workers to ask the union to hold a vote on the contract, and should have approached the Steelworkers instead of issuing an "implied threat" about hard economic times, Falconer said.

In July, Potash Corp offered workers at three of its mines a contract it said would increase salaries by up to 35 percent over three years. But the miners walked out on August 7 after talks broke down, and the two sides remain at an impasse.

The United Steelworkers union, which represents the 500 mine and mill workers, says employees deserve a bigger piece of Potash Corp's record profits, which were boosted by booming grain markets and tight world supplies of potash, causing prices for the fertilizer to more than double this year.   Continued...