Isidro Felix and Bladimir Morillo did not have high expectations when they heard Barrick had acquired a majority interest in the Pueblo Viejo mine. Felix, who is from the town of El Maricao, just three miles from Pueblo Viejo in the Dominican Republic’s Sanchez Ramirez province, sums up the prevailing view in his community at the time.
“Barrick will come, bring people from other countries to work at the mine, and forget about us.”
Morillo, who hails from El Naranjo, just two miles from the mine, says his community had similar sentiments. Today, however, 11 years after Barrick acquired its interest in Pueblo Viejo and 5 years after the mine entered production, perceptions have changed.
“Well, the community was wrong,” Morillo says.
Barrick has not only remediated environmental damage done by the mine’s previous operator, it has built strong partnerships with local communities and lived up to its commitment to hire locally. Morillo and Felix are prime examples. Both went through Pueblo Viejo’s Rotational Employment Program and were subsequently hired as permanent, full-time employees. Morillo is an Inventory Control Technician and Felix is a Mine Facilities Technician.
“My life has taken an immense turn,” Felix says.
Poverty is the hard reality for many people in the communities surrounding Pueblo Viejo. The poverty rate in the 25 communities closest to the mine is 80 percent, with 15 percent living in extreme poverty. Most don’t complete high school because they leave to help support their families. Only six percent attend university.
“There aren’t many opportunities in this region and we knew from the start that providing employment and skills training would be critical elements of our sustainability program,” says Jose Tronilo, Community Relations Specialist at Pueblo Viejo.
The Rotational Employment Program was launched in 2008 during Pueblo Viejo’s construction phase. Its purpose was to provide temporary employment to unskilled workers from nearby communities. Participants are selected via lottery and new hires are trained in Barrick’s safety and operational standards. Since 2012, the program has achieved 4.51 million man hours worked without a lost-time incident. A lost time incident occurs when a worker suffers a work-related injury that results in being off work for one full shift or more.
When the program first launched, participants worked three-month rotations as general laborers or in environmental remediation. The program later lengthened rotations to four-months and, in some cases, six months, based on the needs of the mine and worker experience.
Morillo entered the program in 2009. He revegetated the slopes around Pueblo Viejo, which helps prevent erosion in this elevated, high-precipitation region. Felix entered the program in 2013 and also did environmental remediation work.
Overcoming the initial skepticism from his community was one of Felix’s biggest challenges. The context, Felix explains, was that long before Barrick acquired its interest in Pueblo Viejo, the mine was operated by a government-owned entity that left a legacy of environmental degradation. Felix’s community assumed Barrick would be no different.
“They didn’t realize how Barrick operates,” he says.
Felix says he was able to explain how the company works—the scope of its environmental remediation program, the way it treats and monitors water, and the strict safety and operating standards to which all employees must adhere. The fact that Pueblo Viejo set up a community water-monitoring program and invited local residents to visit the mine anytime also helped change perceptions, he says.
“People see for themselves that the company is responsible and has things under control,” Felix says. “They see that Barrick is different.”
Over time, Pueblo Viejo has expanded its Local Employment Program to include training for high-skill jobs at the mine. In 2014, for instance, the company implemented the Dual Training System, a program developed in partnership with the government-run Technical and Vocational Training Institute (INFOTEP). The program trains local residents in mining-related disciplines such as industrial and diesel mechanics and mine maintenance. To date, 29 people have completed the two-year program, which includes work placements at Pueblo Viejo. Twenty-seven graduates have been hired by the mine.
Pueblo Viejo also works closely with third-party contractors to ensure they hire locally. To facilitate this hiring, the mine has developed a database of qualified individuals from local communities that it shares with contractors. The mine also provides skills training to individuals who demonstrate high potential during work placements through Barrick’s professional development program known as Compass.
In addition, Pueblo Viejo is developing an internship program in partnership with local high schools and post-secondary institutions. The program is expected to launch later this year.
The Rotational Employment Program also continues, with 441 people from 34 local communities currently participating. The range of jobs available under the program has widened with participants now working in areas like maintenance, operations, processing, and remediation. To date, more than 2,200 people have participated in the program. Eighty-six have been hired full-time, including Morillo and Felix. Morillo still remembers his hire date.
“November 25, 2012. I was so excited to work at Barrick,” he says. “My dream is to provide a good future for my children and to help my community, my neighbors and be a person of integrity.”
Felix recalls his reaction when he was offered full-time employment in 2014.
“Well, first of all, glory to God, because first we give thanks to God,” he says. “I hugged my supervisor and said ‘thank you.’ He said, ‘Don’t thank me, your conduct, your performance has earned you the prize you’ve won, which is to belong to the Barrick Pueblo Viejo family.’”