New Caledonia’s nickel sector shaken up (Radio New Zealand – August 8, 2017)

Unions in New Caledonia fear that the Vale nickel plant could close within half a year and trigger the biggest wave of job losses the territory has ever seen. “That’s 5,000 employees and that means 10,000 people who need to be fed”, a unionist Pascal Pujapujane told New Caledonia’s television station after the latest briefing by the Vale leadership.

What sent the alarm bells ringing was the announcement by Vale’s new CEO Fabio Schvartsman in Brazil last month that it was reviewing its loss-making operation in New Caledonia. The timeline for a decision is not clear but reports suggest the Vale board may move as soon as this month.

Returning from Brazil, the head of Vale New Caledonia Daryush Khoshneviss met union representatives who had different interpretations of the message from headquarters. Vale runs a global network of mines and mining-related businesses which make it the world’s top iron producer.

The word is out that Vale will stop investing in New Caledonia as it seeks to find ways to make the plant profitable. The Soenc union, which is a major workers’ organisation, concluded that the plant’s closure is not inevitable.

Last month, the Soenc secretary-general Pierre Tuiteala warned that the plant closing would be a blow to the territory’s entire economy with disastrous consequences. Other unions feel less assured by Mr Khoshneviss. Three of them, including the traditionally militant USTKE, want to take steps as soon as possible to avert lay-offs.

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