Cooks, cleaners at Gahcho Kue diamond mine consider strike action
Union says workers seeking higher wages from mine contractor ESS Compass Group
The union representing culinary and janitorial workers at Gahcho Kue diamond mine say they are considering a strike as a result of stalled negotiations with the contractor employing them.
Tony Santavenere, vice-president of Teamsters Local 213 which represents the workers, said strike action could shut down the camp.
"If people aren't eating and sleeping in clean places, they're not going to be working," he said.
The grand opening of the Gahcho Kue mine, about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, is set for Tuesday. Construction of the mine began in 2014 and it began mining its first diamonds last month. It's co-owned by De Beers Canada and Mountain Province Diamonds.
About 60 workers for a mine contractor, including the camp's cooks, sous chefs, janitors and camp attendants, organized about six months ago. Santavenere said contract negotiations with their employer, ESS Compass Group, have been going on for the last three months.
He said workers were being paid about $25 an hour under the previous contractor, but saw their wages drop to about $15 an hour when ESS Compass Group won the tender. That's about $2 more than the N.W.T. minimum wage. Santavenere said it's also $10 to $15 lower than what workers are paid at other camps across the country.
The workers are also seeking additional medical and dental benefits.
Santavenere said the contractor has agreed to some medical benefits, but budged little on wages, instead proposing increases of three per cent in year one, and two per cent in years two and three.
"We're talking about a dollar [rise] on wages over three years," he said. "That would put these guys at $16 an hour, way below industry standards."
He said about 60 per cent of the workers affected are Aboriginal.
"We're hoping De Beers or the First Nations put pressure on ESS Compass to come back to the table and negotiate a fair agreement."
He said that in an unofficial poll, 99 per cent of the workers were in favour of a strike.
The union now plans to file an official application with the federal labour board. That process could take two months.
Union ended mediations, contractor says
ESS Compass Group declined an interview request, but issued a statement on Thursday afternoon saying it's been in "active negotiations" with the union since it was certified in April.
"After detailed discussions and in an effort to reach a deal, both parties agreed to voluntary, non-binding mediation. In August, the union ended the mediation process," spokeswoman Stephanie Baxter said in the statement.
"We do not believe that it is beneficial to discuss specific details of our negotiations outside of the bargaining committees. Our top priority during this period is to ensure the needs of our client and customers are met."
In a statement, De Beers said it would be "inappropriate" to comment due to the ongoing bargaining process between ESS and its employees.
The company said the mine is still ramping up to full production and it's looking forward to the official opening.
with files from Kate Kyle