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BC Labour Relations Board lay down the law during labour dispute

Contractors are being heckled by union members as they drive through the picket lines
Unifor Local 2301 members picketing outside of Rio Tinto. (Jacob Lubberts photo)

With Unifor Local 2301 still striking against the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter in Kitimat, the BC Labour Relations Board has defined what work is considered an essential service.

It has designated certain facilities, operations and services as necessary for what it says is needed to prevent danger to the health, safety and welfare of British Columbians.

Both parties have agreed to continue the operations and maintenance of its hydro-electric power generation, distribution and transmission at its Kemano facility as well as the power management operations at the smelter and the smelter’s potlines.

The non-union workers who continue to work at the Rio Tinto smelter are working an average of 60 hours total per week as Rio Tinto is not allowed to hire replacement employees.

Rio Tinto is allowed to hire contractors to help maintain essential service standards as they are not considered replacement workers. But it can only use those contracted workers for services that would be provided on a contract basis in the absence of a strike or lockout. That means the company can only use the contract workers for specific jobs and can’t spread them out to run other operations.

The union that is picketing outside of the smelter is required to provide unrestricted entry and exit for anyone coming to work under the essential services order or any deliveries required to continue the operations.

However, getting through the picket line without being heckled by the union workers outside of the smelter is difficult, as videos have surfaced on Facebook of Tyco- an integrated fire and security company - being yelled at and called ‘scabs’ - a person who works despite an ongoing strike - by multiple Unifor members as they drive through the picket lines.

As the labour board is now the official mediator between the two parties, they retain the jurisdiction to monitor the operations of the facilities and services of Rio Tinto and decide what productions and services are necessary until a new collective agreement is finalized and signed.

In the case of an emergency or disaster situation, Rio Tinto has the ability to call upon the union workers to help with something that might pose a serious danger to the health, safety or welfare of residents of British Columbia.

In order to do that they would have to provide the union with documentation or information about the emergency within three days of the situation.

READ MORE: Rio Tinto smelter cutting aluminum production to one-third of normal workload