Canadian Manufacturing

Six-month lockout at Rio Tinto Alma plant has ended

The months-long dispute over a corporate outsourcing strategy ended after intervention Sunday by Ministry of Labour

ALMA, Que.—Locked out workers at a Rio Tinto Alcan plant in Alma, Que., voted to end a labour dispute which had been running since the start of the year.

Workers in three groups voted in favour of the tentative deal with the aluminum company by margins of 82 per cent to 92 per cent.

The 780 Rio Tinto Alcan workers were locked out on Dec. 30.

One of the key issues in the dispute was outsourcing. The international company wanted to replace retiring workers with sub-contractors that would be paid lower wages.

The union said Thursday night that the new contract limited outsourcing, bolstering the interests of the Quebec employees.

During the dispute, the union had also denounced the company’s continued operation of its dams and the selling of its electricity production to Hydro-Quebec.

“We faced the third-largest mining company in the world and we won,” said Leo Gerad, the international president of the United Steelworkers.

“The message to multinational corporations is clear: workers are more determined than ever to defend their rights.”

“This is excellent news for our employees, their families, the community, our customers and our shareholders,” said Etienne Jacques, CEO for the North American division of Rio Tinto Alcan Primary Metal.

“The agreement will help protect the competitiveness of the Alma plant in the future.”

The company said management will begin the back to work process for employees over the next few days, followed by the restart of the smelter’s production cells.

The new deal was reached with the intervention of a Ministry of Labour conciliator.

The Alma plant is in Quebec’s Saguenay region, about 225 kilometres north of Quebec City. It is one of Rio Tinto Alcan’s key aluminum smelters, producing about 438,000 tonnes of aluminum a year.

The lockout caused a one-third reduction in output at the smelter.

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