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May 2006

About 400 workers at the Ekati diamond mine represented by union Public Service Alliance of Canada have begun a strike against owner BHP-Billiton after they failed to reach a contract with the mining giant.

The negotiations apparently bogged down on issues of seniority, pay equity and benefits.

In a statement, the Ekati mine said it issued a last-ditch proposal to avoid a strike (the union said that proposal has already been rejected by 70% of its membership.) It said the mine continues to operate at full capacity, by using existing personnel, people from its corporate partners but not replacement workers. It noted that one third of its bargaining unit are not supporting the job action.

“There are a growing number of employees who are committed to working at EKATI,” says Richard Morland, vice president of operations. “We are pleased to report that the morale at the mine remains extremely high. On site it is business as usual.”

There are signs the union is getting tough. It’s picketed the airport where the workers fly into the mine, contacted the company’s stockholders, and suggested that Ekati’s Aurias-brand diamonds are not “conflict-free.”

“The union would ordinarily support selling Ekati diamonds as ‘conflict free’ but right now we are in our own major labor conflict – and jewelers should be told about that conflict too,” said the head of the PSAC, Todd Parsons. “I wonder if retail customers would have second thoughts about buying diamonds being produced behind a picket line by a company that won’t negotiate a fair contract with its own diamond workers?”

The PSAC also released a BHP Billiton company, which quoted a company manager as saying that comments about the mine’s profitability should be “‘toned down,’ because it makes negotiations ‘tougher’ to handle.”

BHP calls the union’s statement “based on unlawfully obtained confidential company documents.”

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