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Final offer made to striking mine workers

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 31/06) - Resource giant BHP Billiton made its final offer to the Public Service Alliance of Canada Tuesday with the hopes of bringing the 54-day strike to an end.

"We have bargained in good faith for the past 15 months," said Ekati Diamond Mine Vice President of Operations Richard Morland in a news release. "We expect the union to take (the offer) to our employees for a vote."

According to BHP Billiton, the offer contains annual salary increases averaging a minimum of four per cent effective June 30, 2006, and again on June 30, 2007. As well, if the local 3050 ratifies the deal, each bargaining member will receive a $1,000 "back to work bonus."

The new offer also confirms immediate paid sick leave and also gives each employee an additional annual paid personal day off after one year of service and two annual paid days off after five years on the job.

Reaction to the offer and the manner in which it was received by PSAC and the Union of Northern Workers local 3050 bargaining team was blunt.

"This form of so-called bargaining is unethical," said UNW president Todd Parsons. "Despite suggestions that BHP won't bargain in the media, they released this offer simultaneously while presenting it to the negotiating team."

According to the UNW, its bargaining team is reviewing the latest offer and will present its position this morning in Edmonton.

Prior to yesterday's offer from BHP, PSAC Executive Regional vice-president Jean Francois Des Lauriers said that among wages, job security and vacations, the union's demands include seniority employment guarantees to protect its members' jobs.

"Mines have a finite life, we know that so eventually there's going to be layoffs and when that happens we want these to be based on seniority," he said, calling the last few days a "frustrating experience."

Company spokesperson Deanna Twissell says agreeing to a standard union seniority clause would jeopardize the company's commitment to aboriginal partners and the territorial government.

"That being the hiring targets for Northerners and aboriginal people," she said. "If we accepted the seniority clause, many Northerners and aboriginal people would be the first to be laid off."