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Canadian diamond mines fail to meet local-hire rules

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

The three diamond mines in Canada's Northwest Territories are not meeting the hiring targets they agreed to. The targets are set out in the socio-economic agreements between the mines and the territorial government. When diamond mining was just starting up in the Northwest Territories 16 years ago, then Minister of Resources Stephen Kakfwi talked about the agreement for BHP Billiton's Ekati mine.

"What this socio-economic agreement does is, amongst other things, is make very clear commitments on the level of employment for northern and aboriginal people," said Kakfwi in 1996.

Last year, almost half of DeBeers' unskilled and semi-skilled workforce at the Snap Lake mine came from outside the territory.

Northerners only made up 37 percent of the mine's workforce — much less than the 60 percent target.

The territory's two other diamond mines have also fallen short of their hiring targets. The mines also made a commitment not to fly in workers from outside the territory. At least some are not living up to that commitment.

"In today's labour market it is hard to attract and retain skilled labour, especially. And the mines here in the Northwest Territories are no different. They are fighting for employees with Fort McMurray, Voisey Bay, and soon to be Muskrat Falls out in Labrador, and also the activity that's going on in Kitimat in BC," said Northwest Territories Industry Minister Dave Ramsay, who met with mining executives last week.

Despite the numbers, the territorial government said it's a higher priority to keep the mines open than to have a primarily northern workforce.

"Given the labour market and the fact that we want to see the mines remain open and in operation, companies have to do what they have to do to keep their doors open, and we really believe that's just a fact of life," said Ramsay.

Including spin-off business, the diamond mines account for an estimated one third of the territory's gross domestic product.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.