Smelter workers afraid to speak out
Workers at the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter say morale is at an all-time low and many fear for their jobs.
Wednesday's announcement that New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS) would shed 65 jobs in the next two months - instead of in five years as previously planned - has shocked many staff.
Staff consultation about the restructure has begun, with options including voluntary redundancies, redeployment to other roles and forced redundancies.
Smelter workers contacted yesterday said they were afraid to speak out in case they were targeted for redundancy.
One worker said morale at the plant had been shocking for some time, but after the announcement it was much worse.
Workers were whispering about closure, but did not know what was going on.
Another worker said people did not know what was happening and were terrified that the smelter would close and some were sure it would shut.
The worker said staff were concerned they had not heard from Deputy Prime Minister and Clutha Southland MP Bill English and Invercargill MP Eric Roy.
Mr Roy said it was a fair comment but he had been in talks with smelter general manager Ryan Cavanagh and would have discussions with State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall next week.
"I have also had discussions with decision-makers up the line," he said.
He was worried about the job losses and the further viability of the smelter and the financial impact of the world recession on Rio Tinto, he said.
"I am working as hard as I can to secure the future of the smelter here in Southland," he said.
Mr Cavanagh declined to comment about the staff fears yesterday.
His spokeswoman, community relations officer Andrea Carson, said: "As Ryan said yesterday, at this stage there are no plans for closure.
"Tough times will continue in aluminium in the short term and the business will continue to focus on innovation, flexibility and adaptability to try and remain viable.
"We are losing money and this situation must be turned around for NZAS to become viable. The acceleration of our restructuring work is one of a number of actions aimed at returning the smelter to viability.
"Our team has worked tirelessly on cost savings and improvement programmes all year.
"I believe we have a future but we need to be viable and so we need to implement process improvements, increase our efficiency and reduce costs, particularly power costs."
Meanwhile, Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union Southland organiser Trevor Hobbs met unionised staff at the plant yesterday.
Workers were subdued and had told him the news was still sinking in, he said.
"It was unexpected. The reality is they were told they had five years to take redeployment opportunities and now out of the blue that has been changed to two months".
Mr Hobbs confirmed workers had to be interviewed and complete a test as part of a rating process to decide who would keep their jobs.
He had asked the company to look into the tax implications for workers made redundant and for it to keep the workers informed.
Mr Hobbs said workers did not want to speak because it would be like putting a target on their head.
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