PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. -- The labour dispute at Rio Tinto's smelter in Kitimat is over.

Members of Unifor Local 2301 have ratified a new Collective Labour Agreement.

A notice from the union says it was approved on Friday by 70.6 per cent of votes.

The strike lasted 69 days, but workers aren't back on the job yet.

The union says they will be working hard to expedite the timelines in the return to work protocol and strategizing ways to help support its members who are unable to return to work right away.

The agreement covers the smelter, as well as Rio Tinto's hydropower facility at Kemano.

The company notes the two sides have also agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding for a new way of working together.

 “We welcome this vote from employees in support of the new agreement and our shared vision of a strong, sustainable future for BC Works,” said Rio Tinto BC Works General Manager Affonso Bizon in a press release.

“Our focus will now be on ensuring the return of workers and ramp-up of production at the smelter is managed in a safe and controlled manner over coming months, to deliver lasting benefits for our employees, the broader community and our customers.”

Rio Tinto's BC Works management will begin initiating the return to work process for employees over the next few days, followed by the progressive restart of the smelter's production cells. 

A previous statement from Bizon indicated that restarting Rio Tinto's shutdown smelter pots could take between 12 to 16 months to complete.

Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth says he's "extremely pleased" to hear about the end of the strike.
He says it's great news not only for Kitimat, but all of the Northwest.
"The amount of weath generated by that smelter clearly has a major impact on all of Northwest B.C," he said.
"We have the newest smelter producing the greenest aluminum in North America. We're very happy for Rio Tinto and Unifor Local 2301. We realize it's going to be a while before they can get back to full production, but at least they're working towards that for now. So that will take some time -- we don't know exactly how much -- but I do know that both parties want to do it as efficiently and as safely as possible. So it's great news for all of us."
Germuth says the strike caused economic hardship for many in the Northwest. He says it will take some time for the region's economy to recover. 
"There's probably going to be some challenges as they're trying to get things re-started. Nothing ever goes as smooth as we would like," he said.
"I'ts gonna be a while before things get back to normal, let's put it that way, but we're very happy that they have that agreement and they're both going to start working together again to get the smelter back up and running."
CFTK has reached out to Unifor Local 2301 President Martin McIlwrath for comment.