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COMMENTARY · 8th May 2012
Merv Ritchie
As the Union contract between the Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) and their workers comes to an end this July all indications are a settlement will be avoided. If rumours coming from the employees of RTA are to be believed the negotiations are not going well. A new revelation this week is regarding how both RTA and their prime contractor Bechtel have been negotiating separately with various Canadian Government offices to import foreign workers to perform duties on the Kitimat Modernization Project (KMP) site.

“Further, over the past several months, Bechtel and RTA have been working with government agencies to understand and establish a process to bring in Temporary Foreign Workers to the project in the event that there is a shortage of qualified craft workers in British Columbia and Canada. This process will benefit Contractors on the KMP that may experience labour shortages.” wrote Field Contracts Manager Dawn Perry on behalf of both Bechtel and RTA in a letter, dated April 30, 2012, to all contractors.

Another recent report from the Journal of Commerce details the work commencing on the second generation facility and tunnel at Kemano.

Colleen Nyce, spokesman for Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) said currently approvals are needed from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. These are expected to be in place in April.

“We then expect our own internal project approval, hopefully in May,” she said, via e-mail.

The report states the completion of Kemano is for back up purposes but in truth both generation facilities could be run at the same time if there was sufficient transmission capacity in the BC Hydro and Kemano power grid. At different times of the year (spring and fall) there would clearly be enough water to feed these hydro electric power generation turbines at full potential. The revenue guaranteed by the contract signed with BC Hydro would make this consideration a lucrative option for RTA.

A number of issues are raised by the spectre of these issues.

Is there any desire on the part of RTA to continue any function of the current smelter while the new one is being constructed? If not, is there any desire on the part of RTA to continue to employ their current hourly workers?

It has been reported if RTA is able to keep the current work force unemployed for 18 months or longer they all lose their job security status and RTA will be able to re employ only those they deem worthy. If none meet their “qualified craft workers” designation according to their current negotiations with the “government agencies” will the new staff all be foreign workers?

If the labour disruption provokes serious civil disobedience, will RTA cease all KMP activities and restrict their activities to power sales only?

Has RTA spent too much money already, committed themselves too deeply to the new smelter, ie: constructed facilities which could not be repurposed?

Meetings began last Friday and the letter suggests they will continue weekly to allow all contractors to take advantage of “Temporary Foreign Workers”. The discussions with the various “government agencies” appear to be quite advanced as the letter concludes with the following statement to ensure they attend these information sessions;

“Contractors are required to obtain approval prior to communication and/or submittal of any application to these organizations for the purpose of bringing Temporary Foreign Workers to the Project.”

RTA’s parent company has a long and controversial history of not respecting human rights and the collective bargaining process. Recently, at a Borax mine in California, Rio Tinto locked out the staff after decades and generations of families devoting their lives to their service. It was an acrimonious labour disruption, but was settled in three months with a six-year contract, which included a yearly 2.5 percent pay increase and protections against discrimination and favoritism for the 570 workers. Rio Tinto won the right to promote workers based on skills and performance as opposed to seniority-based promotions.

More disturbing however is the case of the Rio Tinto vs the residents of Bougainville.

Rio Tinto operated the world's largest open-pit copper mine in Bougainville. The plaintiffs allege that, when Bougainville natives began to oppose Rio Tinto's mining operations, Rio Tinto demanded an abrupt armed response, and quickly provided the military with attack helicopters and vehicles for use against the native population. Rio Tinto allegedly assisted with troop transport, munitions and housing, leading to massacres of thousands of Bougainvillians. The plaintiffs also allege that Rio Tinto also orchestrated and directed the military to blockade the island for nearly a decade, preventing medical and other necessities from reaching the population; one company executive is quoting as stating the goal of the blockade was to "starve the bastards out some more [so] they [would] come around." The blockade allegedly resulted in the deaths of many more Bougainvillians, including thousands of children. - The plaintiffs sued Rio Tinto for abetting war crimes and genocide. The Ninth Circuit ruled that these claims should go forward, finding sufficient allegations of conduct that violates international law. Read the judges ruling here.

It remains to be seen what will happen at Kitimat, BC. Is the company preparing for a long labour disruption with this effort to secure a foreign workforce? Is the Canadian government wittingly or unwittingly facilitating this? Is this the reason for the completely self contained work camp being constructed behind a security perimeter?
Ask your selves this....
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 11th May 2012
Some of you out in the public will definitely support Rio Tinto. No one is against technological change , the problem is there will probably be even more jobs than Paul Henning eluded too many times in his public appearances. RTA wants to give us 699 jobs out of the kindness of their hearts,the problem is the jobs are there to be had. The work still needs to be done but RTA wants it done by people making half the wages. If you told me my job was being replaced because we found a piece of machinery or computer that could do it better , I would probably have to swallow my pride and accept that fate. But if you think I am going to sit back and let them give my job to someone who is working for less than half the wages and no benefits ,you have another thing coming. I know lots of you will say a job at 20 bucks an hour is better than no job, well there is no possible way a person can support a family and mortgage payments and a car, all the necessities of life on 20 dollars an hour. I don't have a 5th wheel or RV or even a quad or boat to sell if , god forbid there is a strike or lock out. Its funny that when I talk to people some of them say well 700 jobs are better than none .A lot of you also think it wont be you,its going to be the other guy. Believe me ,no one is safe. Remember ,Kitimat and the Union have held up their part of the bargain to get the remodernization, now its up to Rio Tinto Alcan to hold up their end. By the way Rio Tinto is the proud supplier of medals to the London Olympics, they have even started a new event this year its called race to the bottom, and they are competing against Caterpillar to see who can slash the most jobs..... Lets not go down with out a fight people.
Since when, does Business control our resources
Comment by Frank Jensen on 11th May 2012
I have lived in Kitimat since 1964 and I consider this to be my home. Over the years, I have seen Alcan and now Rio Tino Alcan making decisions about our Environment, Our water, Our resources.
KCP was shut down 20 plus years ago because of the Environmental impact that it would have. WHAT has changed???
Well, there have been a couple of changes.
1) The tunnel that was drilled to supply more water to the Turbines for power, was payed for by YOU and ME. It belongs to us because we paid $500,000,000.00 for it to Alcan. Todays cost would be over $ 2 Billion. (can't wait to see the check)
2) From what I read and hear, the new owners (RTA) are not good Corporate citizens. They seem to dabble in 1/2 truths, smoke and mirrors.
I have never heard Alcan complain about the tunnel bringing water to the turbines, Now, all of a sudden, it's falling apart, it's not safe, etc. so they need a new tunnel. but they are going to run BOTH tunnels so they can turn out more power to sell??? That sounds like a 1/2 truth.
I stand to be corrected, but I thought that when the whole Kitimat / Alcan project got started in the 1950's that a condition of the Kemano project was granted to supply the Smelter and the town site with power and any excess was for
the Northwest area only.
I have to agree with some of the other writers in that RTA can not be trusted. WE have to wake up and smell the Coffee. RTA is getting out of the Aluminum Business and into the power Business.
They have gotten all their concessions, fixed power prices, now they will have a token workforce at the smelter, while making Millions off the power sales.
Reminds me a little like West Fraser. Got all that they wanted, tree farm licence, $30 million gas rebate for the mill, shut her down and walked away with a big smile on their face.....
sacred what?
Comment by djb on 11th May 2012
Please stop using this fabricated "sacred circle' to demonize any development in this beautiiful corner of BC. While many of your points are valid, using this "circle' just make it seem like it is being driven by some lunatic. Like many of the articles in this online 'paper' it seems like it is driven more by speculation and opinion than any facts.
Comment by LINDA HALYK on 11th May 2012
That is all I want is the community to survive, but with eyes wide open. Burying ones head does no one any good. Everyone needs to fight to have Kitimat and Northern BC grow.

Having large corp(s) pushing everyone around and lording over the town keeping them in fear of closing down is no way to live. Kitimat has been under this thumb since the 50's, not saying everyone shouldn't be grateful, but, maybe it is time the people take back their pride and town. Just saying. Maybe then Kitimat could grow to be the industrial town it was designed to be.
retired but not brain dead
Comment by Allan Hewitson on 10th May 2012
Even if the main premise of Merv Ritchie's story is speculative, it sets out a realistic scenario that explains the rather vapid approach to local hiring so far demonstrated in the progress so far of KMP.

CAW 2301 has been handed a fairly draconian list of demands to kick off 2012 bargaining. They can look at Quebec and London, Ont. to see the direction of today's ruthless negotiation processes by essentially foreign ownership to the concept of "a fair day's pay for a good day's work." Their idea of contractors getting paid either more of less than
regular employees, whose circumstances are totally controlled by the existing rules of employment if not by Canadian law. I hope our federal government and immigration authorities will deal both promptly and decisively with any attempts to circumvent the law by manipulating offshore hiring. Really, Linda Halyk, get off that old horse and stop grumbling about municipal elections. This kind of situation, if borne out, is critical to both the long term survival of the community and the quality of survival of major surrounding communities.

Extremely careful, but firm reaction would be needed if RTA is indeed committed to any kind of labour interruption during the KMP process.

It certainly makes no sense to me, but numerous attitudinal approaches to KMP - the virtual "hostage" camp situation which provides little or no opportunity for the local community demonstrates the old Alcan we all worked for (and quite enjoyed "disliking" in a safe, paternalistic way) is gone...gone...gone. RTA needs to be understood as the bottom-line oriented organization it is - owing no loyalty to anyone who put 30 or 40 years of service into the well being and development of the company they bought because they considered a good investment for the future - or to the people who subsequently have trusted their pronouncements and committed to investments in working to be a part of it all.

Not particularly a knock at RTA specifically - just the nature of global big business today,
We don't have all the facts yet but...
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 10th May 2012
Ms.Abreu , we can only go by the information that is out in public right now. The union and the town of Kitimat were told if we met the conditons that RTA set out for remodernization Paul Henning said on numerous occasions that the plant would need a minimum of 850 and possibly 1000. The province gave them a power sales agreement to pay for the new smelter,the union gave them a 5 year agreement for labour peace to build the smelter. And now the new plant manager has the audacity to say ,that agreement ends when our contract ends. As usual we held up our side of the agreement and RTA is reneging on their part. What if the Provincial Govt .told RTA that their power sales agreement ends when our contract ends because they are not holding up thier end of the agreement.They would have the province in court so fast their heads would be spinning. So please it is not fear mongering ,all the scenarios mentioneed in the article are possible. Only time will tell if they come to fruition. Hopefully not but it is very possible.
@ Susie
Comment by LINDA HALYK on 10th May 2012
Of course they all have Canadian plates, do you really think they would ship or drive, their own personal vehicles here, and do you really think RTA would allow such a display.

If informing the public of possibilities or warning of potential disaster is brain washing then this country and our media are in a whole lot of trouble. Independent media with integrity to report honestly, is the only way you are not being brainwashed.

RTA has a bad reputation and with the way ALL levels of government have turned a blind eye to pollution, given away our natural resources to a foreign owned company, given tax breaks. The list goes on and on and on.

Don't bite the hand that feeds you, well that mentality has put Kitimat in the position it is now.
is rio tinto locking canadians out of kitimat
Comment by Marcus Kendar on 10th May 2012
honestly when i read this article and then its first comment i noticed the way it was phrased it sounded like someone who is one of three things
1)it was typed by a executive or someone that is related to one and is just upset that they cant control all the media.
2)it is some one who is totally delusional and afraid of the truth
3)or someone that stands to benefit from foreign labour
my veiws on the article is that it is accurate and sound considering the way this country is going down the peverbial crapper.

before i go i must be the first to proclaim that with recent events our government is not the peoples anymore it is now the corps and we are all puppets to think otherwise we just vote for the head puppets and before we all realize it we will ALL be either way below the poverty line to the point that we owe so much money we litterally have to sell ourselves into slavery or leave this ONCE GREAT COUNTRY so that the true terrorists in it can have all the cheap and unsafe labour that they want because its still cheaper for a company to remove/replace/bury a worker than it is to fix a worker. yes people it is true! or we will all be in CIVIL WAR!
Comment by LINDA HALYK on 8th May 2012
If this should happen and RTA goes to power sales only, you need look no further than the Mayor and City Council.
Man camps could have and should have been stopped. If other towns and Cities can do it so could Kitimat, but the illustrious Mayor wouldn't or should I say couldn't rock the boat.

I hope for all RTA Kitimat employees this does not happen, but best start planning for a much different future.