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Rio Tinto Alcan locks out 755 in Quebec

10 January, 2012Mining giant Rio Tinto Alcan locked out union workers at its Alma smelter in Quebec from January 1, when the union contract expired.

CANADA: The Syndicat des travailleurs de l'aluminium d'Alma, or Alma aluminium workers' union, an affiliate of United Steelworkers (USW) overwhelmingly rejected company proposals at a general assembly on December 29 and 30.

The union local has 755 members at the plant, 674 hourly workers, 25 office personnel and 56 workers at the pot relining centre. Office workers voted 71 per cent for a rejection, hourly employees 98 per cent for rejection, and pot relining workers 88 per cent for rejection.

Bargaining for a new contract started in October 2011. The parties were not able to agree on subcontracted labour - the union wants to limit subcontraction, but the company refuses.

The Alma facility hosts one of Rio Tinto Alcan's most important North American aluminium smelters. The company has said that it will ensure safe and efficient aluminium operations throughout the region, and cut production by only one third at the 438,000 tonne smelter during the lockout, with the help of 200 managers. Union leaders at the Syndicat des Métallos d'Alma have said to CBC News in Montreal that they suspect the company is using illegal replacement workers to continue production.

Rio Tinto Group is a British-Australian mining group with headquarters in London and Melbourne and operations on six continents, mainly in Australia and Canada. It is the fourth-largest publicly listed mining company in the world, with a market capitalisation over 130 billion US dollars. Union relations are often strained, and the IMF has repeatedly reported on conflicts in the company in North America, Australia and Latin America.