Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief George Mackenzie says his government "cannot accept any reduction in the number of Tłı̨chǫ" at the Ekati mine, as its owner threatens to lay off 150 entry-level employees.
Two weeks ago, Dominion Diamond Mines said it was considering contracting out the work because an "unacceptably high" number of staff involved were failing to show up.
Tłı̨chǫ leaders and Union of Northern Workers representatives are meeting employees at the mine this week to hear their concerns.
Meanwhile, the union has filed a grievance with Dominion Diamond and launched a separate complaint to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, which is an independent labour dispute tribunal.
'Strikes at the heart'
"We consider this matter urgent," Grand Chief Mackenzie said in a statement late last week.
"Our impact benefit agreement [IBA] requires that the company hire and retain the Tłı̨chǫ people. We are meeting with the company and the union about this issue, and we will update our people regularly.
"Our people, our way of life and our livelihoods are at stake. The company has a duty through all of the agreements they hold with partners – the IBA, the collective agreement with the union, and through the socio-economic agreement with the GNWT – to hire and retain northern workers.
"Their proposed approach strikes at the heart of all of these agreements."
Throughout, Dominion Diamond has made clear the proposed lay-offs are under consideration and not final.
However, the company has not elaborated on the specific details of the alleged absenteeism and the Tłı̨chǫ Government says Dominion "has never brought this concern to the Tłı̨chǫ."
Tłı̨chǫ leaders will also sit down with Ekati's chief executive officer, the Tłı̨chǫ Government said, to "discuss the process and options."
Article 26 states: "Prior to contracting out any work that directly results in the layoff of bargaining unit members, the employer will notify the union and provide the union with the opportunity to present any proposals as an alternative. Such discussions will not delay the tendering of contacts. As of the date of this agreement it is not the intention of the employer to contract out any work that directly results in the layoff of bargaining unit members."
The exact nature of the union's grievance regarding that article has not been specified. Cabin Radio has requested an interview with the union to seek clarification. In its message, the union said it filed the grievance on May 15 and Dominion Diamond had until June 12 to respond.
"We are committed to this fight and will ensure that our request moves swiftly through the process," said the union statement, jointly signed by union boss Todd Parsons and the leader of the relevant local chapter, Ian Kelly.
Separately, the union has registered an Unfair Labour Practice complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board. The union said Dominion had 15 days from May 23 to respond, after which "mediation may then be the next step."
Questioned in the legislature by Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly on Monday, industry minister Wally Schumann said he had "not received any official notice from Dominion Diamond Mines about this situation."
However, Schumann said Dominion executives had raised concerns with him about absenteeism at a separate meeting several months earlier.
"We are quite concerned," Schumann continued. "We want to keep these jobs in our territory but, at the same time, this is an issue between the union and Dominion Diamond.
"We want to make sure Dominion Diamond meet their socio-economic commitments and their agreements."
Dominion Diamond has not issued any public comment since initially confirming, on May 15, that lay-offs were being considered.
Dominion recently announced it was suspending preparatory work on a major expansion, dubbed the Jay pipe, suggesting that plan is no longer viable in the present, suppressed state of the global diamond market.
However, Dominion did say it would continue to explore alternative deposits at Ekati for future development.
In any given year, the Ekati mine offers employment of some form to between 1,500 and 2,000 people.