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Rio Tinto hasn't returned to bargaining table after a week of labour conflict in B.C.

·3 min read
Dana Amado, who works for a filtration product supplier for Rio Tinto in Kitimat, B.C., has been out of work since job action began on July 25. (Submitted by Dana Amado - image credit)
Dana Amado, who works for a filtration product supplier for Rio Tinto in Kitimat, B.C., has been out of work since job action began on July 25. (Submitted by Dana Amado - image credit)

Like hundreds of other residents in Kitimat, B.C., Dana Amado is eagerly waiting for the biggest employer in town to return to the bargaining table after more than a week of job action.

On Thursday afternoon, Amado and other employees, contractors and suppliers for Rio Tinto's aluminum smelting facilities will join a community rally to call for the company to compromise in a labour dispute.

Members of Unifor Local 2301, which represents Rio Tinto employees in the northwestern B.C. community, have been on strike since July 25 following nearly seven weeks of negotiations.

Amado, who works for a filtration product supplier for Rio Tinto, says she has been laid off because she refuses to cross the picket line.

"It's an awful feeling to have your world rocked … you're not going to have a paycheque," she said on Wednesday.

"But I do feel strong in the sense that I do want to help any way that I can and get Rio Tinto back to the bargaining table, so that the community that I live [in] can be strong and healthy and survive."

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The union is asking Rio Tinto for changes to workers' retirement income and benefit levels, and to address grievances resulting from its use of contractors and its refusal to hire full-time workers.

In a written statement on July 26, Rio Tinto said it made efforts during bargaining to reach an agreement, which were all rejected by the union. The company also said it would reduce production to around 35 per cent of the smelter's annual capacity in order to ensure the safety of employees who are still working.

The company told CBC on Wednesday that it will continue to ensure safe operation of the smelter and has no further updates on the job action.

Amado estimates as many as 3,000 employees, contractors and suppliers for Rio Tinto are now unemployed in a community of just over 8,000 residents.

"There's only so many jobs to be had, so there's just a lot of fear and uncertainty," she said. "I honestly feel like it's a bad dream and I'm going to wake up from it, but … with such pure silence, it makes me sick."

Trevor Thomschke, who has been working for Rio Tinto since the age of 19, also owns a hair salon with his wife, which he says has lost a quarter of its business because neighbours are out of work.

"Everybody's going to try and cut and save where they can because we are not employed right now," Thomschke said.

Paula Keech Photography
Paula Keech Photography

Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth says Rio Tinto has been the most stable job creator in the northwestern B.C. region for four decades, and the current labour conflict is a massive economic hit.

"This no doubt is going to cause economic hardships for many members of our community and the region," Germuth said.

"They're going to have a tough time paying their mortgages and car payments and everything else, and it's huge."

District of Kitimat
District of Kitimat
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