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Walter Energy looks to sell Canadian assets

Company filed for U.S. bankruptcy in July, and was granted creditor protection in Canada on Dec. 7. The company is now looking to sell its Canadian and U.K. assets.
Walter Energy is pursuing the sale of its Canadian assets, the latest move in the company's restructuring.

Walter Energy is looking to sell its Canadian assets in the wake of a B.C. Supreme Court order allowing the company to pursue restructuring.

According to a spokesperson, 19 people remain on site at Walter's three Northeast B.C. coal mines — the Brule, Wolverine and Willow Creek mines in the Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge area — performing administrative, environmental and security functions.

The company expects these workers will not be affected by this latest development.

The Dec. 7 order gives Walter creditor protection under the Companies' Creditor Arrangement Act (CCAA)

It is intended to "facilitate ongoing operations," Walter said in a release, while it pursues the sale of its assets in Canada and the United Kingdom.

The move is the latest in the ongoing restructuring of the company amid a collapse in global coal prices.

A report published this month by analysts Wood Mackenzie shows that spot coal prices remain at "multi-year lows and most demand indicators in Asia point to continued weakness in the immediate future."

Walter Canada, Walter United Kingdom and their assets were not part of the United States bankruptcy filing in July.

When contacted, the company refused to offer any additional comment, except to say that the announcement should come as "no surprise."

The three B.C. mines have been idle since the spring of 2014.

Final layoff notices were issued to 23 Walter employees at the Brule mine in April 2015. The following month, 27 workers at Willow Creek were given their final layoff notices.

A year earlier, operations were curtailed at the Brule and Wolverine mines, putting 700 workers out of a job.

In 2013, operations were curtailed at the Willow Creek mine, putting 250 people out of work. 

Union seeking compensation

The union representing 300 of the 700 workers laid off in April 2014, the United Steelworkers Local 1-424, confirmed it has no remaining workers at any of Walter's mines.

In July 2014, the union won a labour challenge to have these 300 employees compensated for 60 days of lost wages between April 17, 2014, and June 17, 2014.

Although the collective agreement allows for temporary layoffs without compensation to workers for a period of time, the Labour Relations Board ruled the employer had not given notice of the layoffs or engaged in adjustment plan discussions with the union as required by labour law.

Walter Energy was granted reconsideration of the Labour Board's decision. A hearing was held May 4 and 5.

The union was once again successful at this hearing.

In June, Walter challenged the ruling a second time and in September, the labour board denied the company's application for reconsideration.

A Sept. 24 letter to members of the union by Dan Will, vice president and business agent for the Local 1-424, said Walter Energy "may choose to now refer this issue to the courts," and had 60 days to decide if it was going to do so.

Will stated that the union had "contacted the employer to meet with us and go through the process of determining what monies are owed to the membership," but the company had not responded to the request.

The union could not be reached Wednesday for an update on this issue.