Employees approve contract at Rio smelter in Canada
TORONTO (Reuters) - Unionized workers at Rio Tinto Alcan's Alma aluminum smelter in northern Quebec have approved a new contract ending an extended lockout, the union and the company confirmed late on Thursday.
The approval comes more than six months after Rio Tinto Alcan locked out its unionized workers after contract talks failed at the smelter, located some 500 kilometers (310 miles) northeast of Montreal.
The two parties reached an agreement in principal on the contract earlier this week.
"We are extremely pleased that the employees voted in favor of the tentative agreement," Etienne Jacques, chief operating officer at Rio Tinto Alcan, said in a statement. "The agreement will help protect the competitiveness of the Alma plant in the future."
The old contract expired on December 31 and the workers were locked out on New Year's day. Rio has been operating the plant at about one-third capacity with non-unionized workers since early January.
Rio Tinto Alcan said its unionized employees would start returning to work over the next few weeks, followed by the progressive restart of full smelter operations.
The United Steelworkers union, which represents 780 unionized workers at Alma, has sharply criticized Rio for the lockout and accused the mining giant of beginning "a major assault on workers and communities."
The union celebrated the new contract as a victory for the local community and its future.
Rio Tinto acquired the bulk of its Canadian operations through its $38 billion takeover of Canadian aluminum producer Alcan in November 2007.
(Reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Chris Gallagher)
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