The B.C. Labour Relations Board (LRB) has ruled Mount Polley Mining Corp. must pay laid off mine workers lost wages due to the company’s failure to give those employees 60 days notice before laying them off earlier this year.
In her July 10 decision, Labour Relations Board associate chair Jennifer Glougie said the employer breached a section of the Labour Relations Act by failing to give that advanced notice of the layoffs to 26 employees in January and February, 2018.
MPMC delivered letters of layoff to those employees back in January and February, of which 22 employees were laid off on Jan. 17 and an additional four employees were laid off on each of Jan. 23, Jan. 31, Feb. 14, and Feb. 21, 2018, said the ruling.
MPMC argued the layoffs were necessary due to financial loss resulting from the tailings pond breach on August, 2014. It said in the three and a half years since the breach, it has expended approximately $205 million on remediation activities and new equipment, while having net earnings of only $50 million.
“It says its parent company decided that further losses in 2018 were unacceptable,” Glougie stated in background information in the decision.
MPMC made the decision at that point to temporarily reduce pit operations to reduce the loss, which forced the layoffs.
Glougie rejected the company’s argument that they didn’t need to give 60 days’ notice because of their financial situation, accepting the union’s position that the company’s losses were not beyond its control.
The tailings pond breach, the cost of remediating that breach, and the significant financial losses the employer suffered as a result are not new or unforeseen,” Glougie said.
“I order that the employer make whole any employee who lost wages as a result of its failure to comply with the notice requirements of Section 54 with respect to the January and February 2018 layoffs.”
Glougie said while the union and company have engaged in discussions, the union said the employer has provided no definitive committee as to when the employees will be recalled to work.
The decision comes at a time when MPMC employees have been on strike for the past seven weeks now, manning picket lines 24/7 at Bootjack Road, Gavin Lake Road and the Ditch Road near Mount Polley Mine east of Williams Lake.
The two parties are currently back at the table and are expected to continues those negotiations Monday, July 23.
It is approaching four years since the Mount Polley tailings breach sent more than 24 million cubic metres of mining waste and forest debris into pristine rivers, streams and lakes, such as Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake.
All eyes are on this year’s salmon run into Quesnel Lake and its tributaries to see whether the breach four years ago had an impact on that year’s salmon fry leaving the system for the ocean and being able to find their way home to spawn.
Several other studies are underway on Quesnel Lake, which bore the brunt of the breach, to determine the lasting impacts.
MPMC was never fined for the tailings breach, believed to be the biggest spill in Canada’s mining history.