A letter sent by the Union of Northern Workers to its Ekati Mine members on Wednesday states that it intends to file grievance with owner Dominion Diamond Mines over the recent suspension of mining operations.
Ekati had 1,625 employees as of 2018, 715 of them Northerners.
The letter, signed by UNW president Todd Parsons and Ivan Landry, president of Local 3050 – Kimberlite, which represents “all employees of Dominion Diamonds at Ekati,” will be filing a grievance due to the method of layoff of Ekati workers, forced payouts of vacation leave, and access to personal leave.
“In light of the recent decision by DDM to suspend operations and put workers on leave without pay, your local executive has made the decision to file grievances with the employer,” states the letter. “The UNW president and Local 3050 were not consulted about these decisions.”
Dominion Diamond Mines had issued a news release on March 19 stating that the corporation decided to suspend operations “to safeguard its employees and the communities surrounding its operations.”
Both the UNW and Dominion were approached by Yellowknifer for further comment and both provided statements by email.
Parsons said in another statement on Thursday that the union’s number one priority is health and safety of Northern communities, especially small and isolated ones during the pandemic. The union also knows that “employers are facing an unprecedented situation” in keeping workplaces safe and operating, he said.
“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 stated.
“Collective agreements provide certainty and stability for workers. During uncertain and unpredictable situations, it’s more important than ever for employers to work collaboratively with unions to find mutually beneficial solutions to the issues workers are facing.”
The union says it has been communicating with workers to “minimize disruptions” for workers and help with adjustments, but the corporation has not communicated with the union its plans and decision-making processes during the pandemic.
“The UNW believes that the collective agreement between DDM and its workers provides a sufficient framework for implementing emergency measures to protect workers and NWT communities,” Parsons states.
“We are prepared to use the agreement’s grievance mechanism to hold DDM accountable for the decisions they make regarding unionized workers.”
Yellowknifer sought a response to the union’s claim about the corporation’s commitment to the collective agreement and the document’s ability to deal with emergency measures.
The company sent a statement that it did what was best for health and safety of staff for employees.
“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,” states a letter from the communications contact for Dominion.
“This plan was deemed necessary to proactively ensure we can guarantee everyone’s safety, given the rapid spread of the virus, the remote location of the Ekati mine’s operations and the high frequency of air travel required for employees and support staff to access mining operations.”
The corporation goes on to say that the time is challenging for both unionized and non-unionized employees and the company is aiming to start operations again “when it is safe to do so.”
“There is currently no timeline established for this period of suspended operations. Dominion will provide updates on future developments as they become available,” the release states.
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referenced Rio Tinto’s Diavik mine and its workers. Yellowknifer apologizes for this error.