BHP hiring review
Company, territorial government trying to pin down meaning of 'Northern resident'

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 26/00) - The government and BHP are currently trying to sort out exactly what a Northerner is.

A socio-economic agreement between the government and the Australian operator and majority owner of the Ekati mine sets hiring targets for aboriginal and Northern residents at the mine. But there are two definitions of Northern resident in the agreement.

The first includes the requirement that an employee's principle residence must be in the NWT.

The second definition states: "... the possession of a Northwest Territories Health Card, with an address other than that of the mine or a transient address at another remote mine site, shall be prima facie evidence of Northern Resident status."

Prima facie is a legal term that means 'at first view, before investigation.'

"They basically have used a definition that anyone who has a health card is, in their books, a Northern resident," said Joe Handley, Minister of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development.

Handley said he is hoping to see the residency requirement raised to a year instead of the three months it takes to get a health card.

"Using the possession of a health card as evidence of being Northern, it's a little bit too generous," said Handley.

Along with three months residency, an NWT mailing street address, a personal reference and a reference from the applicant's employer are required to get a health card.

A representative of the Yellowknife branch of Canada Post said no record is kept of how many boxes are owned by city residents.

BHP's latest hiring figures for Ekati indicate 70 per cent of its workforce of just over 500 employees are Northerners. The company states 33.2 per cent of its workforce are Northern aboriginals.

The hiring targets set out in the agreement are 62 per cent Northern and 31 per cent aboriginal.

The territorial government has a financial stake in making sure 'Northerners' employed at the mine actually live in the North. The annual grant it receives from the federal government increases or decreases, to the tune of $14,000-$16,000 per resident -- with the population of the NWT.

But BHP spokesperson Denise Burlingame says the company is convinced that the vast majority of employees it lists as 'Northerners' live here.

"If you used a street address here in Yellowknife and lived down south, I still think we'd know," said Burlingame. "That's not to say there isn't going to be the odd case that comes up."

Burlingame said she believes that, apart from presenting a health card, the company requires employees claiming to be Northerners to sign an affidavit stating they live here.

The territorial government does not confirm the hiring figures BHP is required to present annually.

"We have no authority, no right under the agreement, to go in and check their numbers," Handley said.