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By Rose Ragsdale
For Mining News 

GNWT, diamond mines focus on workers

Government and industry agree to take a collaborative approach in building skilled and stable work force in territory


Last updated 12/28/2008 at Noon

The Government of the Northwest Territories and three diamond mines in the Northwest Territories entered a Memorandum of Understanding to further development and retention of the Arctic territory's diamond mining work force.

The agreement was signed in Yellowknife Nov. 27 by Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Bob McLeod; Minister of Education, Culture and Employment Jackson Lafferty; BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc. President Ricus Grimbeek; Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. President Kim Truter; and Chantal Lavoie, senior vice president of operations for De Beers Canada.

Under terms of the MOU, the diamond mines together with the government will work cooperatively to advance a Northwest Territories Mining Workforce Initiative to develop necessary skills, training, and travel initiatives to allow more of the territory's residents to be employed in the mines; and to identify strategies to attract skilled workers and their families to become residents of the Northwest Territories.

Since the Northwest Territories established its first socio-economic agreement with BHP Billiton in 1996, the combined operations of Ekati, Diavik and Snap Lake Mines have provided more than 10,000 jobs for northerners. Some 60 percent of operations jobs in NWT diamond mines are currently held by northerners.

"The NWT's diamond mines are valued partners in our efforts to maximize benefits for NWT residents in the development of our diamond industry," said McLeod.

"This initiative allows us to build on this history of success and sustain the growth of our northern economy by supporting training, jobs and business opportunities, and by creating even more local benefits from mining," the NWT minister added.

"Through partnerships such as this one, this government is maximizing opportunities for Northerners to improve skills for living and working," said Lafferty. "This agreement will provide Northerners even greater opportunities to take advantage of training and develop the right skills for existing or future jobs in the diamond mining industry."

Mines commit to workers

The mining companies entered the agreement Nov. 27 even as global economic upheaval threatened their operations.

Grimbeek said Ekati Diamond Mine just celebrated its 10-year anniversary and noted that 15 percent of the mine's 1,100 employees and contractors have worked there since Day 1. He also said BHP Billiton Diamonds would like to expand its northern talent and invest its collaborative efforts in developing an even stronger northern mining work force "to ensure the NWT has a great future."

"As a member of the Rio Tinto group of companies, Diavik remains firmly committed to working with and providing benefits to local communities," said Truter. "With the added strength of our combined industry and government efforts, the north should benefit even more from our work, as should each of our companies."

DeBeers Canada's LaVoie said diamonds have long been associated with promise and commitment and so it makes perfect sense that the diamond industry takes such an unprecedented leadership position with the Government of the Northwest Territories. "This will ensure long-term delivery on our collective commitments to the North and that we are growing the significant benefits we are already bringing to northerners," LaVoie added.

Miners react to poor economic conditions

By mid-December, at least two of the diamond producers had announced plans for cutbacks or retrenchments in response to deteriorating global economic conditions.

Diavik Diamond Mines Inc., 60 percent owner and operator of the Diavik Mine, which is located 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, northeast of Yellowknife Dec. 10 said it is taking a series of measures to help protect the business and its workers during the current global economic crisis.

"DDMI's approach will position the Diavik business well for the difficult economic conditions. Standards will be maintained in health, safety, the environment and communities," the company said in a statement.

The actions, which include deferring some capital projects and underground production, scaling back exploration and seeking greater efficiency, will help to reduce and defer costs until such time as the global economic situation has stabilized and becomes more favorable, the company said in a Dec. 10 statement.

The Yellowknife-based diamond miner said Diavik will seek to minimize work force reductions at the mine by deferring new hires and eliminating vacant positions. The mine currently employs about 700 workers.

DeBeers Canada, owner and operator of the Snap Lake Mine, Dec. 8 informed the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board that it will take longer than previously envisioned to complete an internal assessment now underway for its Gahcho Kué Diamond Project in Northwest Territories.

DeBeers said it has been working with regulators and stakeholders to advance development of the project, but in light of the current global economic climate, it may take some time to complete an environmental impact statement for the project. The company also said it would report back to an MVEIRB panel tasked with overseeing the project in late 2009.

Gahcho Kué, located about 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, northeast of Yellowknife, is expected to produce 3 million carats of diamonds annually. It would be DeBeers' third diamond mine in Canada. The company also owns the Victor Mine in northern Ontario.

The company's Snap Lake Mine, about 220 kilometers, or 136 miles, northeast of Yellowknife, reached commercial production earlier this year, and is now ramping up to full production. Once in full operation, Snap Lake will employ about 560 workers.

DeBeers has established 40 training positions for the Snap Lake Mine, its first diamond mine outside of Africa and Canada's first fully underground diamond mine. The miner aims to fill all 40 positions by the mine's third year of operation.


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