Rio Tinto and its Unifor Local 2301 workforce may have reached an agreement seven months ago that ended a two-month-long strike at its Kitimat aluminum smelter but the restart efforts of the company are only now beginning to bear fruit.

A presentation was given to the Terrace city council by Rio Tinto officials, Devrie Sanghera, communities and social performance advisor and Sebastien Bellerose, finance business partner/finance director with BC Works on May 12. Speaking to council, company officials said, the first of 291 pots at the smelter were being restarted in mid-May.

“It’s probably that we are going to restart a batch of pots, then we’ll pause to make sure we have all the prerequisites to restart the next block of pots,” said Bellerose.

A pot is used in the aluminum smelting process, the aluminum is placed inside where it is then melted down by electricity. After it is melted down it is then transported to the casting centre. A restart timeline was also laid out during the meeting, and beginning in May until July, it is the cold metal pot restarts before more further pot restarts take place between August and November. The restart process is expected to wrap up by the end of the year.

Bellerose said during his presentation to council that it has been challenging to secure support for all the work they have. There has also been some movement in Rio Tinto which has caused some gaps. They have begun hiring and in 2022, have hired 126 employees to fill these gaps. There is also a need for temporary support and currently, Rio Tinto has posted 16 permanent roles externally. According to the spokesperson, in some cases, there is more than one position per role.

“Our greatest need nowadays is for tradespeople, like millwrights and fabricators. For professionals, we are looking for electrical/mechanical engineers, an HR advisor/officer and a maintenance supervisor,” they said.

Roughly a third of the workforce resides in the Terrace area.

Rio Tinto also needs an amendment to its emissions permit in order to restart production, saying it that as it adds pots, it may exceed the amount of fluoride permitted under its current permit.

The company did publicize its need to amend its permit, including representations to area First Nations. Rio Tinto is adding the results of its contacts to its amendment application.

There has been four years of negative cash flow from the smelter and to be profitable it has to run at full capacity. The plan is to have all the pots back in operation by 2023.

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