Minister says ‘all mines not equal’ as Ekati closes but others remain open
The NWT’s Diavik and Gahcho Kué diamond mines are sending some workers from smaller communities home but otherwise remaining in operation.
The nearby Ekati mine announced its indefinite closure in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic on Thursday, with some employees told it could be four months before the Dominion Diamond-operated mine is able to resume operations.
Ekati workers were told a “work stoppage” would be declared and they would not receive pay while the mine is under a suspension.
On Friday morning, a spokesperson said Diavik – operated by Rio Tinto – would not yet take the same course of action and “continues to operate at full capacity, while closely monitoring the impacts of Covid-19.”
The spokesperson said: “We have taken the proactive step of putting employees who reside in 12 isolated communities on paid leave. This measure will help to reduce risks for these communities.
“Other steps we are taking include asking all employees not go to work if they feel unwell or believe they have been exposed to the virus, self-isolation for any team members who have travelled overseas, the cancellation of all non-business critical travel to site, and health screenings to reduce the possibility of transmission to our sites.”
Like other mines, Diavik recently began screening workers before they board flights to the mine site.
Around 50 workers are being sent home. They will remain on full pay, Diavik said.
Communities affected in the NWT are Délı̨nę, Fort Good Hope, Fort Simpson, Gamètì, Jean Marie River, Łutselkʼe, Tulita, Wekweètì, and Whatì.
In Nunavut, communities involved are Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk, and Kugluktuk. The measure is currently in effect until at least April 14.
Keeping Gahcho Kué open ‘critical’
On Friday afternoon, De Beers said similar action would be taken at its Gahcho Kué mine.
Fifteen employees and contractors from smaller communities were being asked to “return home or remain at home” for the next month, De Beers said.
A statement from the company did not confirm whether the workers would be paid. Asked by Cabin Radio, a spokesperson would only say: “The wellbeing of our employees is of paramount importance, especially during this time when they will be at home taking care of their families.”
The affected workers live in Whatì, Gamètì, Łutselkʼe, Jean Marie River, Tulita, Fort Good Hope, Délı̨nę, and Fort McPherson, De Beers said.
The company said people from those communities were selected as they are “only accessible by air or more than three hours by road from advanced medical help.”
“De Beers Group recognizes that the best way to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is social distancing. By asking these employees and contractors to return or remain at home for the next month, the company is minimizing the risk of transmission to some of the NWT’s remote communities,” read a statement.
De Beers said keeping the mine open was “critical for jobs, communities around our operations, and local and regional economies” and there were no immediate plans to close.
Asked about the impact of Ekati’s closure and disruption at other mines, industry minister Katrina Nokleby said on Friday: “This is obviously difficult news to take from the perspective of the NWT economy.”
Nokleby said residents should not read too much into the different responses of the mines to the pandemic.
“All mines are not equal and their capacity is different,” she said.
“The fact that Diavik and Gahcho Kué are still operating should not be [taken as] disregard for what is happening. I am confident they adhering to the guidelines outlined by the chief public health officer.”