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Ekati workers on strike

David Ryan
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 07/06) - Unionized workers at BHP Billiton's Ekati diamond mine were on the picket line at 6 a.m. today after collective agreement negotiations broke down in Edmonton.

Negotiations between BHP and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) ended yesterday afternoon.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Workers rally outside BHP Billiton's office recently. Up to 400 unionized workers employed at the Ekati diamond mine were expected to walk off the job at 6 a.m. today. - NNSL file photo

"We have exhausted all possible avenues for resolutions without taking job action," said Jean Francois Des Lauriers, regional executive vice president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The latest round of negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement between the PSAC and BHP representatives began on April 5.

"BHP Billiton is officially at an impasse with PSAC in negotiations," said Deana Twissell, external affairs officer at BHP Billiton.

"We will mobilize aircraft to the Ekati diamond mine to ensure the timely removal of any unionized employees who make the decision to strike," said Twissell.

She said there are 2,000 workers at the mine at any given point in time, including contract workers, and non-unionized BHP employees from other mines.

Des Lauriers said that PSAC have picket line plans in place, but, "we are not revealing any of the strategies."

The Ekati diamond mine will continue to operate during the labour dispute, said Twissell.

"With our own employees and the employees of our alliance partners, we will work together doing what is needed to keep the business functioning," said Twissell.

Des Lauriers said Yellowknife residents hold very strong emotions regarding striking mine workers,alluding to the 1992 Giant Mine strike that led to picket line violence and an underground bombing that left nine picket crossers dead.

"There is a strong disapproval in this community for replacement workers and line crossers," he said.

Des Lauriers said that they will be willing to go back to the negotiating table as long as substantial offers are made.

PSAC had hoped to negotiate for protection of seniority workers, job security, and rights for aboriginal workers, said Des Lauriers.

Twissell said that BHP Billiton is committed to act in a way that "ensures the safety, well being and freedom of choice for employees."

She said the company respects any choice that the employees choose to make.

The original strike date was March 29, but was pushed back when a deal was made to negotiate under a federal mediator in Edmonton through April 5-6.

PSAC and the Union of Northern Workers represent close to 400 unionized workers at the Ekati mine.