North

Dominion recalls 60 workers to Ekati Diamond Mine, preparing for restart after 6 month hiatus

The beleaguered company says it expects an agreement soon to restructure its debt and get back to business.

More than 300 employees still furloughed while company remains in creditor protection

An aerial view of the Ekati mine, 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife. (Dominion Diamond Corporation)

Sixty employees of the N.W.T.'s Ekati Diamond Mine will be heading back to work after months on furlough, the company announced Friday.

Cabin Radio first reported that Dominion Diamond Mines, Ekati's parent company, would be recalling the staff "to prepare for an anticipated restart" Friday afternoon.

Dominion confirmed to CBC News Saturday morning that the staff would be returning in early December to prepare the mine for full operation with COVID-19 prevention measures in place.

The announcement is the beginning of the end to a long ordeal for workers at the mine, who have spent months waiting to hear if they would have jobs to return to.

Dominion closed the mine in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shortly after entered creditor protection.

The company said that they were unable to sell roughly $180 million in diamonds as a result of a worldwide slowdown in demand during the pandemic.

Workers were initially placed on furlough, but by late-September the company was laying off some workers with no severance.

Since 2017, Dominion has been owned by The Washington Companies, which purchased it with $550 million in creditor bonds.

Heavy haulers move rock out of the Diavik diamond mine pit on the shore of Lac de Gras, approximately 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, N.W.T. Dominion Diamond, which owns a stake in Diavik, says they anticipate a deal to restructure the company's debt. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

A deal to sell Dominion to a different subsidiary of the Washington group fell through last month, casting further doubt on the future of the mine. As well, in October the company's CEO resigned.

But a press release sent on Friday says that the company has been "informed by the banks" and various creditors "that they expect to be able to reach a binding agreement in the near future to restructure Dominion's debt and fund the Company."

"In anticipation of the parties reaching such an agreement, Dominion has determined to recall these employees given necessary lead times required to mobilize the workforce while adequately complying with COVID-19 isolation protocols," it read.

The company's creditor protection has been extended to Dec. 15. In an affidavit filed with a Calgary court in September, it said it was again selling diamonds after a long hiatus.

The mine's reopening comes amid climbing COVID-19 case counts across southern Canada, where many of the workers will be based. Since March, dozens of cases of COVID-19 have been identified at mine sites in Nunavut and the N.W.T.

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