Dominion Diamond Mines issued layoff notices to an undisclosed number of workers this week, a company representative has confirmed.
Local media outlets began reporting on Wednesday afternoon that the company, which owns Ekati mine, had sent out letters this week to some employees indicating that when the mine reopens –expected to be sometime during the fourth quarter this year – they will not have a job to return to.
Pat Merrin, CEO of Dominion, provided a statement to NNSL Media on Thursday morning.
“During recent months, Dominion has faced unprecedented challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic and global shutdown of diamond sales,” Merrin stated. “Our management team has worked tirelessly to avoid having to separate anyone from the company, including by cutting expenses, furloughing employees while still paying benefits and modifying our operations to run as efficiently as possible.
“While this was an incredibly difficult decision, we simply cannot responsibly stay fully staffed while the Ekati Diamond Mine remains on care and maintenance. All employees are being treated fairly and with respect, consistent with Dominion’s values.”
Subsequent questions to the company on Thursday – including how many workers have been given notice, which employees are affected, whether severance pay will be provided to people who are losing their jobs or a date as to when Ekati is expected to reopen – all went unanswered as of late Thursday afternoon.
On Sept. 26, the company reported that it had received a purchasing offer of US$146 million related to its shuttered Ekati mine.
Drew Williams, spokesperson for the GNWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI), said in an email Thursday that the department received no notification that the announcement was coming.
“We have since spoken with the company, who has advised that this was a business decision,” he said. “While we are happy to hear of a possible resumption of operations, news about Northern job losses is never welcome and for the sake of impacted individuals and families, we hope that these steps are transitionary and temporary.”
Williams added that ITI realizes that the mining sector is facing difficult times and that the process of Dominion Diamond Mines seeking protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act continues. However department officials are remaining hopeful, he said, noting that the mine has “high” potential for future returns with the Jay pipe and there are other identified kimberlite pipes that could lengthen the life of the mine.
“We’re optimistic that if all goes well, the Ekati project can emerge stronger,” Williams stated, “and that the Ekati mine and the rest of our valued mining sector can return, as soon as possible, to an environment of growth and expansion.”
Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW), stated in an email Thursday that union representatives met with Dominion on Wednesday afternoon and they were told that no UNW members were terminated.
“The majority of Local 3050 members have been on layoff since March,” Parsons stated, noting that the employer uses the term ‘furlough,’ which doesn’t correspond with the workers’ collective agreement.
While operations have been suspended this year, “a small number of members have remained at work for care and maintenance of the mine,” Parsons stated.
There were also “a few more members recalled for a limited period of time for regular seasonal maintenance,” however that work is to end in the very near future, he added.