425 workers affected by shutdown
Rio Tinto Alcan says weak metal prices have forced the aluminum producer to close its 72-year-old smelter in Shawinigan, Que., about a year ahead of schedule in November, affecting most of its 425 workers.
“With the current difficult market conditions and when we look at the short-term forecasts, the situation became financially unsustainable for Shawinigan, and this despite all the efforts the employees made to help over the past years,” said Étienne Jacques, chief operating officer of Rio Tinto Alcan Primary Metal in an interview.
He said employees couldn’t have done anything to avert the decision because the market finally caught up with the plant’s old Soderberg technology.
“They have done almost everything that was imaginable to do, they have done it,” said Jacques. The announcement was made Wednesday, ahead of environmental regulations that would have forced the facility to close at the end of next year.
The Montreal-based company division of mining giant Rio Tinto said it will immediately curtail 50,000 tonnes of production and progressively cut the remaining 50,000 tonnes over four months.
About 26,000 tonnes of production will be reduced this year, with the full effect hitting next year.
About 60 workers will remain at the casting house until the facility closes at the end of December 2014. But all employees will continue to receive a full salary for a year, as outlined in the union collective agreement, said Jacques.
Rio Tinto Alcan has about 5,000 workers in Quebec.
Arnaud Soirat, chief executive officer of Rio Tinto Alcan Primary Metal, said the company will meet with union representatives to evaluate solutions such as retirements to minimize the impact.
Rio Tinto Alcan said it will provide impacted employees with retraining and job-search assistance.
The president of the local union said the announcement is a tough blow for workers and a community that has seen several manufacturers close in recent years, shedding hundreds of well-paying jobs.
But Louis-Gérard Dallaire said clauses negotiated in collective agreements anticipating an eventual closure will cushion the blow.
“Yes, the news is difficult, but there were measures put in put in place for workers to take their time and not feel rushed, that’s kind of novel,” he said.
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