North

Union threatens to file grievance over Ekati Diamond Mine suspension

The Union of Northern Workers says the operator, Dominion Diamond Mines, made the decision unilaterally. The union says it is prepared to file a grievance.

Operations on pause as a preventative measure to help curb spread of COVID-19

An aerial view of the Ekati mine, 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife. The union representing workers at the mine is threatening to file a grievance after the mine's owner, Dominion Diamond Mines, suspended operations over concerns about COVID-19. (Dominion Diamond Corporation)

A union representing workers at the Ekati Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories is threatening to file a grievance after the mine's owner suspended operations last week to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Dominion Diamond Mines (DDM) made the decision to pause operations at the mine, citing its remote location along with the high frequency of air travel required for employees.

The N.W.T. government has restricted travel into the territory, though it has made some exemptions, including for transient workers in the mineral and petroleum resources industry.

In a statement, Todd Parsons, the president of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW), recognized the unprecedented situation posed by the global pandemic.

"However, unusual circumstances do not give employers free reign to discard collective agreements and make unilateral decisions that affect the employment of unionized workers," he wrote. 

Unusual circumstances do not give employers free reign to discard collective agreements and make unilateral decisions that affect the employment of unionized workers.- Todd Parsons, Union of Northern Workers president

 

"DDM is claiming that the COVID-19 outbreak has created a scenario that their collective agreement does not contemplate, and that they are therefore not required to consider it in their planning. The UNW disagrees.

"The UNW believes that the collective agreement between DDM and its workers provides a sufficient framework for implementing emergency measures to protect workers and N.W.T. communities.

Union of Northern Workers president Todd Parsons speaks to media at a news conference in February 2019. (Walter Strong/CBC)

"We are prepared to use the agreement's grievance mechanism to hold DDM accountable for the decisions they make regarding unionized workers."

The grievance has yet to be filed.

When reached for comment, Dominion defended its decision to suspend operations.

"Although none of Dominion's employees have tested positive for the coronavirus to date, suspending operations was determined to be a necessary step to protect both our staff and the people of the North," the company stated in an email to CBC News.

"At Dominion, we know this has been a challenging time for all of our employees, both unionized and non-unionized, and we continue to do our best to ensure that our employees are supported.

"We look forward to recommencing operations when it is safe to do so, and assisting our employees to return to their jobs with Dominion."

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