The troubled owner of the Ekati Diamond Mine has suddenly fired some employees who have been out of work since it mothballed the mine in April.
Dominion Diamond Mines said it cannot afford to keep all of them on staff as it attempts to recover from the financial damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"While this was an incredibly difficult decision, we simply cannot responsibly stay fully staffed while the Ekati Diamond Mine remains on care and maintenance," said the company in an email.
"All employees are being treated fairly and with respect, consistent with Dominion's values."
The employees who were terminated were notified on Tuesday, according to documents obtained by CBC. In them, Dominion says the terminations are effective immediately. The company refers the employees to an outside firm for career transition counselling services.
In the termination letters, Dominion informs the employees that all of their benefits, including health and pension contributions, end immediately. The company has reportedly resisted answering employees' questions about severance pay.
Dominion would not say how many employees it fired. In April, it put the Ekati mine on care and maintenance, saying the pandemic had virtually shut down the diamond industry and left it with $180 million worth of diamonds it was unable to sell. It filed for creditor protection later that month.
Many of the workers at Ekati are members of the Union of Northern Workers. A union official said union leaders met with Dominion's senior managers on Wednesday. The official said Dominion said it has not laid off any unionized staff and has no plans to do so.
On July 30, the territorial government allowed Dominion to extend its temporary layoff of 381 Ekati workers. The extension, which is required under the Employment Standards Act, runs to Oct. 31. A condition of the extension is that the company recall all of the employees by that deadline.
Dominion is still under creditor protection. Earlier this month it accepted a $166 million offer from the Washington Companies to purchase the Ekati mine and all of the assets and liabilities associated with it.
The deal still has to clear some hurdles, including court approval and reaching an agreement with the N.W.T. government on reclamation obligations.