Final countdown for 515 Alcan workers

URGENT work is under way to help 515 staff at Rio Tinto Alcan following news that operations will close at the end of the month.

The final blow for the troubled Lynemouth aluminium smelter came on Tuesday when workers were told that consultation on its future had ended with no sign of a buyer or any hope of saving it from the axe.

Hot metal production will end on Thursday, March 29, and the majority of the staff, 323 workers, will leave at the end of May.

Others will remain in the carbon and casting plants until later in the year when only 60 workers will be kept on in decommissioning, remediation and regional economic development roles.

The company’s ship unloading facility at the Port of Blyth will continue to operate for around 18 months and will be used to store and transport raw materials for the Lochaber smelter in the Scottish Highlands.

Rio Tinto also owns around 4,500 acres of farmland in the area, which it is looking to sell off.

Talks on the sale of Lynemouth Power Station, which employs 120 people, are ongoing with potential buyers, the Government and electricity regulators to determine how it could be used in the future.

Alcan Aluminium corporate affairs director John McCabe said: “We are trying where we can to mitigate the impact on the people affected as much as we possibly can.”

“We are providing employment support, re-training and trying to help with things like CV preparation and interview techniques. We are also working with Jobcentre Plus to try to find them employment elsewhere.

“The focus right now is on the employees directly affected by this, then we will start to look at the decommissioning of the plant, the remediation of the land and the regional economic development work.

“With local enterprise partners we will try to reinvigorate the economy of south east Northumberland, particularly on this site. We will try to attract some new investment from elsewhere to the site to hopefully bring some more jobs. There has been some initial enquiries about the land, but we need to have a look at those in due course. The immediate focus is on the people directly involved in this now.”

Mr McCabe said the smelter’s staff have many skills that could transfer to other industries.

“The guys have really transferable skills. Some have experience of driving different plant vehicles, operating all kinds of machinery or working at heights and they have all got experience of working to really stringent safety standards. They would be of interest to a whole range of different sectors. They are a great bunch of guys, they work hard and they have a lot to offer other employers,” he said.

The director put the reasons for the plant’s closure down to the high operating costs of the business and the impact of future environmental taxes, which could make it unviable.

“Although we have been preparing for the worst, we have been hoping for the best, but the consultation has ended and this is the outcome,” he said.

“While it wasn’t unexpected, it is still a very sad day.”