Ekati diamond mine

Contract renewal talks between Dominion Diamond Corporation and the union representing almost 500 workers at the company’s Ekati diamond mine are not going well, according to the union. (Dominion Diamond Corporation )

Contract renewal talks between the owner of the Ekati diamond mine and one of the N.W.T.'s biggest union locals are not going well, with one party asking the Canada Industrial Relations Board to get involved. 

Dominion Diamond Corporation and Local 3050 of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) have been negotiating a new collective agreement since August 2014. The local represents nearly 500 employees at the Ekati mine.

While neither the UNW nor Dominion Diamond would comment, updates given to Local 3050 by its bargaining team over the past nine months suggest one of the issues is Dominion's decision to cancel the charter flight that transported employees, for free, between Edmonton and Yellowknife.

The flight, run by First Air, stopped operating as of early June. Dominion has cited that cancelled flight and other policy changes — including an increase to the allowance for travelling within and from the N.W.T. to more than $11,000 a year per northern employee — as part of a larger plan to retain northern workers and encourage southern ones to move to the territory.

Move in violation of Canada Labour Code: union

As of 2013, 59 per cent of Ekati workers were "northern based", according to the company — just three per cent shy of the 62 per cent target Ekati's former owner, BHP Billiton, committed to in its socio-economic agreement with the territorial government.

But Local 3050 says the elimination of the Edmonton charter flight is in violation of statutory freeze provisions in the Canada Labour Code, and says conditions of employment at Ekati should be negotiated at the bargaining table.

In its March 2015 update, the bargaining team said it challenged Dominion Diamond on what the real intention of the change is and questioned "the need for such a significant concession that will have a negative impact on both union and non-union employees." 

Of the 479 members represented by Local 3050 as of early this year, just under a quarter, or 117 people, listed addresses outside the N.W.T., according to the union.

Talks appear to have deteriorated when they resumed in late May.

"[Dominion] stated that unless the union was willing to change their position [on the charter flight], it effectively prevented further progress at the bargaining table," the bargaining team said in its most recent update.

Dominion confirmed it has filed an application with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) — a body set up to provide mediation assistance — "requesting a ruling from the CIRB that will allow both parties to continue with effective bargaining."

Future dates for negotiation weren't included in the Local 3050 bargaining team's last update.