Mount Polley ordered to compensate laid off workers

The Labour Relations Board has ordered Mount Polley Mining Corporation to compensate 26 workers it laid off in January.

United Steelworkers Local 1-2017 challenged the lay-offs, claiming the company had not given workers 60 days notice, as required under the collective agreement.

On December 29, 2017, Mount Polley provided notice that, in January 2018, it would begin taking steps to suspend pit operations, according to the LRB ruling on the layoffs. The company said its goal was to suspend pit operations by June 2018 and resume operations by the end of December 2018. All of those employees were laid off between January 17 and February 21.

Mount Polley argued that it felt it didn’t have to provide 60 days’ notice because the cause of the layoff was entirely outside of its control.

“The Employer says, in the present case, the mine had experienced a $155 million loss in the previous two years and its original operations plan for 2018 would have resulted in further losses,” according to the LRB ruling. “Understandably, it says, its parent corporation rejected the proposed operations plan and demanded a plan that would not result in further losses in 2018. With the alternative being a complete shutdown of the mine, the employer says, it had no choice but to develop a plan which would allow it to break even in 2018. It says the only option available to it that had a chance of achieving that goal was to reduce pit operations ‘beginning almost immediately.’ The employer submits the degree of loss it has sustained and it has caused its parent company to sustain is an exceptional circumstance.”

The argument didn’t hold water with the Labor Relations Board.

“I am not persuaded on the facts asserted by the employer in the present application that it was unable to comply with the notice requirements set out in Section 54 for reasons beyond its control,” wrote Jennifer Glougie, associate chair for the LRB. “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. The fact the parent corporation was unwilling to accept further losses may have been understandable, but I agree with the union; the employer has not asserted any facts to suggest the parent corporation’s decision was unexpected or unforeseen.”

She ordered the company to pay workers for lost wages.

Workers at the mine have been on strike since May 23.