Workers at a central Vancouver Island copper mine have gone on strike, saying after taking a hit to help the company restart in 2017, now is the time to increase wages.
The zinc, lead and copper mine near Buttle Lake in Strathcona Park has been operational since 1965 and was owned by Nyrstar when it shut down for economic reasons in 2015. The union representing miners says it made concessions at the time to help initiate a restart in 2017.
“We took a lot of concessions and did a lot of rollbacks especially when it comes to seniority and contracting out,” said Unifor Local 3019 President John Humphrey. “We had no choice to get the operation up and running.”
The agreement at the time said contract workers were to be phased out by March of 2020 but union officials say that hasn’t happened.
The company still flies them in from Eastern Canada and the union says they get more pay and often more work.
“The core work inside the mine, that’s our work, that’s our core work and what’s happening which is a real frustration for a lot of the workers is a worker will come to work and be told a contractor is working today not you,” said Humphrey.
The union says contract workers make about $60 an hour with danger pay while union members make on average $44 an hour with danger pay, though technically the term “danger pay” is no longer used. It is now known as a production bonus.
“So we haven’t had an increase in wages since 2015, the wage increase was 60-cents, that’s all we’ve had for seven years now,” said Mark Laur a worker at the mine.
The mine is now owned by Swiss company Trafigura which has mining operations around the world.
Picket lines went up at the mine and the company’s Campbell River shipping facility Friday. Workers say economically, now is a fair time to ask for a raise.
“We’ve been producing very, very good. Metal prices are almost at historical highs so it could be a win-win situation to get a deal,” said Pat Kiley.
Pensions for current and former workers are also an important issue.
In an email to CHEK News, Trafigura tells CHEK News it “does not comment on industrial relations.”
The two sides in the labour dispute will meet again on Wednesday.