Rio Tinto has confirmed it has begun reducing production of aluminum at its Kitimat smelter to 35 per cent of normal and will be working with 265 non-union staff until the labour dispute between it an Unifor Local 2301, which escalated into a strike July 25, is resolved.
The company said it is gradually taking smelting pots offline – the containers that hold the aluminum and turn them into a liquid that can be poured into moulds – so the reduction unit can be safely operated with the skeleton staff that are required to continue working under an essential services order granted by the BC Labour Relations Board.
The reduction unit is the department where the final high-temperature step in smelting takes place, in which the oxide becomes aluminum.
Out of the 400 pots, the company says they will only be running roughly around 140 pots until a new collective agreement is finalized.
According to the union, during the bargaining process, Rio Tinto requested that they identify more serious issues to see if both parties can come to an agreement on them, temporarily ending the strike before the reduction unit reached the point of no return.
However, the union stated in a news bulletin that after reaching a proposed concession, which would allow union members to return to work, the company called to say that they wanted to pause negotiations for both parties so they could reflect on their positions and the number of demands that are still on the table.
Rio Tinto employs approximately 1,050 people at the BC Works smelter and Kemano powerhouse, including around 900 employees represented by Unifor Local 2301. The company contributed C $780 million to the economy of British Columbia in 2020.