Quick end to lockout at Rio's Quebec smelter unlikely

Mon Feb 6, 2012 12:56pm EST
 
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TORONTO (Reuters) - Rio Tinto's (RIO.L: Quote) lockout of workers at its Alcan division's big Alma aluminum smelter in northern Quebec looks set to drag on with no signs of a breakthrough to end the labor dispute.

A spokesman the Anglo-Australian miner said on Monday that no talks with the union are scheduled.

"I wouldn't put a timeline to (talks) right now because nothing is scheduled," said Rio Tinto Alcan spokesman Bryan Tucker.

Rio Tinto Alcan initiated the lockout at its 438,000 ton Alma smelter in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec, on January 1, after talks with the Alma aluminum workers' union on a new labor contract failed. The two sides had been in negotiations since October and the union's contract expired on December 31.

Rio has been operating the plant at about one-third of its production capacity since early January, using some of its non-unionized employees at the site.

Rio Tinto announced on Friday it will restart two suspended lines of production at its 100,000 ton Shawinigan smelter in Quebec, bringing that plant back to full production. A major power problem had forced Rio to shut down two of the plant's four production lines in late December.

Tucker said the restart process at Shawinigan has begun, but the plant will only be back at full capacity in May. The company has earmarked the smelter, which was commissioned in the early 1940s, for permanent shutdown in December 2014.

LOCKOUT CRITICIZED

The United Steelworkers union, which represents the more than 750 unionized workers at Alma site, has sharply criticized Rio Tinto Alcan for initiating the lockout and accused the mining giant of beginning "a major assault on workers and communities".   Continued...