Unifor workers strike outside the smelter in Kitimat July 25. (Contributed photo)

Unifor workers strike outside the smelter in Kitimat July 25. (Contributed photo)

Kitimat aluminum smelter strike ends as union votes and ratifies collective agreement

Both Rio Tinto and Unifor Local 2301 are working on restart plans to ramp up production

The two-month long Kitimat aluminum smelter strike has come to an end after union members voted and ratified the collective agreement on Friday, Oct. 1.

Rio Tinto confirmed it had reached a new collective labour agreement and memorandum of agreement for its BC Works operation, which includes the Kitimat smelter and Kemano hydropower facility in B.C., in a statement released Oct.4.

“We welcome this vote from employees in support of the new agreement and our shared vision of a strong, sustainable future for BC Works,” said Rio Tinto BC Works General Manager Affonso Bizon.

“Our focus will now be on ensuring the return of workers and ramp-up of production at the smelter is managed in a safe and controlled manner over coming months, to deliver lasting benefits for our employees, the broader community and our customers,” said Bizon in the statement.

The mining giant said over the next few days it will initiate the return to work process for employees, followed by the progressive restart of the smelter’s production cells.

Unifor Local 2301 said their membership voted 70.6% in favour of the tentative agreement and bringing to end the 69-day labour dispute.

No further details of the collective bargaining process or agreement has been released.

The strike began at the Kitimat smelter on July 25, after the first round of collective bargaining fell through. More than 950 unionized employees of Rio Tinto went on strike, following which the company reduced its aluminum production at the smelter to 25 per cent of its normal 432,000-tonne annual capacity.

“We will be working hard to expedite the return to work timelines in the protocol and strategizing ways to help support our members that are unable to return to work right away,” said the Unifor Local 2301 in an Oct. 4. bulletin.

While it is estimated that not all smelter employees will be returning to work, there has been no formal announcement as to how many will be waiting out until production ramps up to full capacity.

Black Press Media has reached out to Rio Tinto for more details about its restart plan.

READ MORE: Rio Tinto and union reach collective labour agreement for Kitimat aluminum smelter