Hundreds lose jobs as smelter reaches end of line

THIS week spells the end for Rio Tinto Alcan’s Lynemouth smelter as the main part of the plant closes its doors for the final time today.

About 290 workers were due to finish their last shifts this week, and many others have already left to take up other jobs or to use up holidays owed to them.

The aluminium smelter, opened 40 years ago at a cost of £54m, was given a £28m government grant back then to help it tackle unemployment in a part of Northumberland struggling to recover from a series of pit closures.

Now all that has come to an end as 515 jobs are being axed at the plant – a move some fear could have a catastrophic knock-on effect and lead to a further 2,500 jobs in the smelter’s immediate supply chain being lost too.

The closure was announced by Rio Tinto Alcan last year after it claimed no viable buyer could be found for the smelter.

The site had been the subject of a strategic review, and the multinational firm feared it would be crippled by new green taxes being phased in over the next few years.

There is still hope that the adjacent power station will be sold and converted from coal to biomass, safeguarding the jobs of those employed there, however.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery has been campaigning for the plant to be saved, including handing a petition to Parliament backed by around 1,000 signatories, but to no avail.

He told the News Post Leader: “I’m truly, truly saddened and disturbed at the way Alcan has come to an end.

“It’s got the best technology around, the best trained workforce around and it’s making a profit.

“And why is it closing? Nobody has been able to give me an answer as of yet.

“I’ve had one response from the government and one from the company and yet they don’t add up. They both say something different.

“The government tried to help Alcan, but it refused their assistance. This is an absolute disgrace.

“Alcan has been at the forefront of industry in the county since the 1970s, and here we see it closing for no apparent reason.”

The company’s regional economic development director, John McCabe, said: “This week is when the contract of employment of almost 290 people come to an end.

“Originally, 232 were due to leave at the end of May, but we need to keep some of them a little longer than we first thought.

“Some have already left us because they have already got work elsewhere, and some people have taken holiday owed to them.

“The rest will be going when their shifts are ending, some today, some on Wednesday and some on Thursday. We wish them well.”

Mr McCabe said that as workers finish their last shifts they give feedback as to what they will be doing on leaving the plant, and those figures, as of Tuesday morning, indicate that 28 employees are retiring, 32 are going into self-employment, 40 are being employed elsewhere within Rio Tinto Alcan and 40 have found jobs elsewhere.

Limited operations will continue in the carbon plant until the end of July and in the casting plant until the end of the year.

After that, 68 workers will remain on site for the decommissioning of the plant.

“These are only the official figures, but we know of quite a large number of people who have jobs elsewhere who haven’t told us yet,” Mr McCabe said. “By the end of this week, we’ll have a clearer picture.”

He added that around 130 people would be interviewed by an unnamed global aluminium company which he believes is willing to take on any workers prepared to make the move to the Middle East.