Court grants injunction to end illegal strike at Vale site

Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court has granted a court injunction which orders up to 2,000 workers at Vale's construction site in Long Harbour to go back to work.

The workers are off the job because of a wildcat strike.

The illegal strike was triggered by about 100 crane operators.

As of lunch hour Thursday, those crane operators were still blocking the entrance to the site, but other workers had left for the day. Nobody crossed the picket line earlier Thursday morning.

Workers are upset with wages and how the company is interpreting the collective agreement on issues such as travel and living allowances.

They are also unhappy with their own union for not taking their concerns seriously.

Crane operator Fabian Smith is a member of Local 904 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

He said crane operators did not stop any other workers from accessing the site.

According to Smith, Long Harbour workers are getting paid $15 hour an hour less than comparable employees in Alberta or Ontario.

"It is a big difference," he said.

Smith said the collective agreement has been "picked apart" by the company since it was signed three years ago.

Workers are also upset that crane operators from the U.S. may be brought in to the site.

The union is not supporting the wildcat action, according to Smith.

Vale spokesperson Bob Carter said it's "unclear" exactly why workers are off the job, although he notes that wage parity with other provinces appears to be an issue.

He stressed that Vale has a collective agreement signed by 16 separate unions, including the one that represents crane operators.

The site is operating under a special project order, a provincial law ensuring no strikes and no lock-outs.

"Clearly, with a project the scale of the one at Long Harbour, and the number of separate contractors and personnel involved, a daily disruption such as we're experiencing is quite significant," Carter said.

The $3.6-billion Long Harbour plant will process nickel concentrate produced at the Voisey’s Bay mine in Labrador. It is scheduled to open in 2013.

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