The Union of Northern Workers has told employees of the Ekati diamond mine it will pursue a grievance over the way in which workers were laid off last week.
On March 19, Dominion Diamond Mines said it was halting all Ekati operations – save for a skeleton care-and-maintenance-crew – “to safeguard employees and communities” as the coronavirus pandemic grew.
There had been fears workers at the mine could contract Covid-19 and spread it to small NWT communities, where there is little access to advanced medical care.
Hundreds of workers were ferried off the mine site last Friday. Employees were told their last paycheques would come in early April and they should seek employment insurance benefits.
At the time, Dominion said the action “was determined to be a necessary step 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 NWT’s two other working diamond mines, Diavik and Gahcho Kué, have remained fully operational but sent some staff home to smaller communities as a preventative measure.
Katrina Nokleby, the territory’s industry minister, said last week that “not all mines are equal,” adding she believed all three mines had chosen appropriate courses of action.
The Union of Northern Workers (UNW), however, feels Dominion behaved improperly in the way Ekati’s suspension of operations was handled.
“In light of the recent decision to suspend operations and put workers on leave without pay, your local executive has made the decision to file grievances with the employer,” read a letter signed by Local 3050 president Ivan Landry and UNW leader Todd Parsons.
Does agreement apply?
The letter, first reported by NNSL, stated the union was not consulted about a range of decisions related to the Ekati suspension.
According to the union, there is a disagreement about whether the existing collective agreement can be applied to the pandemic and its consequences. The union says Dominion “must uphold the commitments it made to members.”
Dominion has been approached for comment.
The union told members it understood Covid-19 would mean changes to many workplaces, but said the mine had not “worked collaboratively … to achieve mutually acceptable solutions.”
Filing a grievance means raising a formal complaint, in this instance over the means used by Dominion to lay off workers.
Like most other organizations, the union itself has had its work disrupted by the pandemic.
Staff at the union have been working from home since Wednesday, March 18. Offices in Yellowknife, Hay River, and Inuvik are closed until further notice.