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BHP worker slams union

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Rae-Edzo (Apr 17/06) - A worker at the Ekati BHP diamond mine says support among aboriginal workers for the 10-day-old strike is dwindling by the day, and most are returning to work.

Joseph Boysis, a process plant operator at the mine and an aboriginal worker himself, said many employees would rather collect paycheques and benefits than try to survive on $50-a-day strike pay.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Ekati strikers, from left, Lindy Carpenter and Mike Pidkowich walk the picket line Friday in Yellowknife. An employee who refused to strike is saying many workers are heading back to the mine site. - Chris Windeyer/NNSL photo

Aboriginal workers make up about 30 per cent of Ekati's 400 unionized workforce, said Boysis.

"Some of us don't know what we're on strike for," said Boysis.

"You get a quarter of your paycheque for staying at home. That won't pay for your mortgage or your truck payment, and it won't feed your family."

Because some aboriginal workers are not proficient in English, they didn't understand what they were voting for or that a strike would mean a loss of income, said Boysis. He said the union has failed to provide translators for Tlicho and other First Nation-language speakers.

Many also took exception to union claims that aboriginal workers are being discriminated against by BHP, said Boysis.

He said the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) - the union representing workers at the Ekati mine - are "using aboriginals as a crutch" to support their cause, when in fact aboriginal workers have had little in common with the union rank-and-file.

"Aboriginal people here feel really left out of this, and it really doesn't pertain to them."

Union references to treatment of aboriginal workers at Ekati was included as one of nine grievances filed with a petition to decertify PSAC to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), April 5 - two days before the strike began, said Boysis.

Other grievances include poor communication with union members, the short amount of time workers had to review BHP's proposed contract before voting on it, and veiled references to Giant Mine and the use of replacement workers, said Boysis.

Workers are also questioning whether some strikers on picket lines in Yellowknife are actual Ekati employees after seeing news coverage filled with unfamiliar faces, said Boysis.

"I don't know who these people are but they don't work at Ekati."

Boysis said that to his knowledge, more than 50 per cent of unionized workers have signed the petition to remove PSAC as their union representatives, which the CIRB requires before they will accept an application.

He said talk of decertifying PSAC began months ago.

Boysis said he couldn't say how many workers have returned to their jobs, but said "it was business as usual" at the mine.

Last week, the union said 17 unionized workers had crossed the picket line, but Boysis scoffs at that figure.

"We have to work a little harder because some people are missing but that's all," said Boysis.

BHP spokesperson Deana Twissell said Friday that many workers have begun returning to their jobs. She said she couldn't say how many out of fear that those workers would become targets for harassment.

She also said the CIRB confirmed to BHP that more than 50 per cent of its workers have signed the petition to decertify PSAC.

When contacted Friday, Jean-Francois Des Lauriers, regional executive vice-president for PSAC, at first agreed that more than the half the workers had signed the petition, but later retracted his comment, saying he couldn't confirm it.

Regardless, he said Boysis lacks credibility, and is a "propaganda" agent working on BHP's behalf "to de-moralize" the strike effort.

Des Lauriers said the union has informants at the mine site who contradict Boysis' assertion that employees are heading back to work in droves.

"The people that we've been talking to are very much in support of the union," said Des Lauriers.

He insisted that PSAC translates "pretty much every document" the general membership receives into at least one aboriginal language.

"When we meet with the members we have interpreters," said Des Lauriers. "It's not always possible because the company is not making things any easier."

Des Lauriers said the union has brought in eight PSAC staffers from outside the mine to help with the strike.

"We do have a few more people than usually," said Des Lauriers. "But the vast majority of people on picket lines are employees of BHP."

Boysis later said he is neither "anti-union" nor a BHP agent.

He said he along with other workers just don't believe PSAC is doing a good job representing their interests.

"Most of us who've signed this petition believe this union has been mismanaged," said Boysis. "They should be keeping us informed of everything and people are walking around confused."