The B.C. Labour Relations Board has ruled Mount Polley Mining Corp. must pay laid off mine workers lost wages after the company failed to give them 60 days’ notice before laying them off earlier this year.
In her July 10 decision, board associate chair Jennifer Glougie said the employer breached a section of the Labour Relations Act by failing to give that advanced notice to 26 employees in January and February.
The company argued the layoffs were necessary because of its financial loss resulting from the tailings pond breach on August 2014. It said in the three and a half years since, 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 said in background information in the decision.
Mount Polley decided 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.
She 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 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 the mine east of Williams Lake.
The two parties are back at the table and expected to continues talks on Monday.
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 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.
The company was never fined for the breach, believed to be the biggest spill in Canada’s mining history.