The Aviles smelter in Spain. Picture: USO

Spanish Alcoa workers march. Picture: USO

Australian Workers Union members on strike in Australia. Picture: AWU

Steelworkers on the picket line in Canada. Picture: USW

Irresponsible aluminium: Alcoa escalates global attack on workers

02.11.2018

Alcoa has recently escalated its global attack on workers, contradicting the company’s claim that it produces aluminium responsibly.

The US-based Alcoa announced on 17 October that it would close two of its three Spanish aluminium smelters, Aviles and La Coruna, resulting in the layoff of 700 workers. The Alcoa European Works Council (EWC) criticized Alcoa for failing to comply with European information and consultation regulations by not consulting with the EWC in advance and not providing the EWC adequate information. The Netherlands-based EWC has filed a court claim in the Netherlands in order to block the closure and layoff.

Alcoa claims the two Spanish plants are inefficient and that nobody wants to operate them. The company has ignored attempts by the Spanish government and unions to slow the collective dismissal process, which could provide time to identify a company to buy the plants and preserve jobs.

1,600 members of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) working at three Alcoa alumina refineries and two bauxite mines recently conducted a 52-day strike after 20 months of negotiations with Alcoa failed to provide a guarantee of no forced redundancies. The company had used threats of termination in an attempt to intimidate the workforce into accepting new working conditions with less secure work.

The strike ended when Alcoa made a new offer that the union submitted for a membership vote. A majority of the workers voted to reject this offer, with an AWU official citing poor treatment of union members on their recent return to work as a reason. Alcoa has applied to an Australian government agency to terminate the existing Enterprise Bargaining Agreement it has with AWU.

Alcoa shutting down a worksite is no guarantee that the company will end its attack on workers, their communities and the environment. Alcoa shut its alumina refinery in Suriname in 2015, dealing a heavy blow to the nation’s economy and putting hundreds of people out of work. This contradicted an agreement Alcoa had entered into with Suriname to continue its aluminium operations there until 2033.

Since 2015 Alcoa has negotiated behind closed doors a replacement agreement governing its exit from Suriname, including to deal with the company’s legacy of environmental contamination. A draft exit agreement has recently been released and strongly rejected as being unfair to Suriname by technical experts and by a coalition of civil society organizations that includes IndustriALL affiliate C-47, which represented Alcoa employees.

C-47 calls for the agreement to be re-negotiated and for Alcoa to adjust pension payments to former employees to compensate for the dramatic decline in the value of the Surinamese currency, resulting in the former workers living in poverty.

Alcoa has locked out for nearly ten months 1,030 members of the United Steelworkers from their jobs at the Bécancour smelter in Quebec, Canada. Nine months into the lockout, Alcoa again demanded more concessions from the locked-out workers, even though the smelter has the lowest labour costs per unit production among all of Alcoa’s facilities in North America.

“If you want to reach an agreement, you need to listen to the other party, capitalize on openings and be open to compromise when the other party is willing to change its position. Alcoa hasn’t done any of that,”

said USW Quebec Director Alain Croteau.

“IndustriALL affiliates have represented Alcoa workers around the world for decades, and negotiations with the company have frequently been challenging. However, Alcoa has never attacked workers and their communities in so many different countries at the same time as they’re doing now,”

said IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan.

“Alcoa is trying to position itself as a responsible provider of aluminium to auto manufacturers and other consumer-facing brands, however its actual practices show otherwise. IndustriALL calls on Alcoa to live up to its sustainability claims and end its attack on workers.”