North

N.W.T. government not looking to 'impose' solution to Dominion dispute with union

The company and the union are feuding over its plan to cut 150 entry-level jobs and replace them with contractors. The company’s explanation is that there have been ongoing absenteeism problems among its workers, while the union says the move is a veiled attempt at “union busting.”

Industry minister says government would step in if asked, but has not so far

An aerial view of the Ekati mine, located about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife. The Union of Northern Workers says its plan to lay off 150 workers would mostly affect Indigenous northerners. (Dominion Diamond Corporation)

The Northwest Territories government does not plan to actively intervene in an escalating dispute between Dominion Diamond and the Union of Northern Workers over proposed layoffs at the Ekati mine.

The company and the union are feuding over the company's plan to cut 150 entry-level jobs and replace them with contractors.

The company's explanation is that there have been ongoing absenteeism problems among its workers, while the union says the move is a veiled attempt at "union busting."

The territorial government is monitoring the dispute, but ultimately it's a situation best left to both sides to settle, said Wally Schumann, the Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister.

"We don't impose ourselves on contracts or employees in a manner that tells a private company how to run their business," Schumann said in the legislature Monday.

"But I am concerned about meeting our socio-economic agreements and [working] with all parties involved to make sure northern jobs are protected," he said.

Agreement sets 62 per cent target 

Socio-economic agreements are used by the territorial government to hold mining companies to account for their activities, according to the government's website. Its agreement with Dominion Diamond at Ekati was signed in October 1996.

In that agreement, the company set a target of 62 per cent northern workers, with half of those workers being Indigenous.

Last year, it reported 54 per cent of its employees are N.W.T. residents and, of these, 62 per cent are Indigenous.

Most of the jobs Dominion Diamond proposes cutting are entry-level positions, believed to mostly be held by Indigenous workers from the Northwest Territories.

Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie issued a statement earlier last week characterizing this dispute as threatening "our people, our way of life and our livelihood" and said the Tlicho government would not accept any reduction of Tlicho workers at Ekati.   

The Tlicho have their own impact benefit agreement with Dominion Diamond, but the specifics of those types of agreements are not made public.

Government would step in only if asked 

On Monday, Schumann said the government had yet to be contacted by Dominion management about the planned layoffs, but said the government would step in if asked by the union and the company.

"We want to keep these jobs in our territory, but at the same time this is an issue between the union and Dominion [Diamond]," Schumann said.

"If there's an issue they can't work out and want someone to facilitate, I would certainly direct my department to try and help them do that."  

Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers, and Chris Aylward, from the Public Service Alliance of Canada, flew into Ekati on Monday to meet employees.

The deadline for the layoffs is Oct. 1, according to the union.

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