Union campaigns for Govt help on Tiwai
The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union will launch a postcard campaign today in an effort to save the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter from closure.
Management at the cash-strapped smelter announced last week it would shed 100 staff during the next two months. Of those, 35 have already gone through natural attrition.
Rio Tinto, which owns the smelter, has also said it could close if it could not secure a cheaper electricity contract with state-owned supplier Meridian.
Southland organiser Trevor Hobbs said the Save Our Smelter campaign, dubbed SOS, was organised because the union was extremely concerned with the Government's "hands-off approach".
Worker morale had hit rock bottom, he said.
"They [Government] are playing Russian roulette with a lot of jobs at the smelter and it is simply not acceptable. If the smelter closed, the flow on affect would be devastating to Invercargill," Mr Hobbs said.
"The idea of the campaign is to put pressure on the government, in particular Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, to do what he can to assist with the on going power pricing issue," he said.
The postcards addressed to Mr English asked him as a shareholding minister for Meridian and an MP representing Southland, to "please sit down with Meridian and Rio Tinto and help negotiate a fair deal that saves our smelter and keeps our local economy running".
Mr English's spokeswoman, press secretary Joanne Black said while anxiety about jobs was understandable, "the Government will not be intervening in commercial negotiations that occur between two companies. There is a contract in place and the Government expects the smelter to continue operating".
“The Government agrees the dollar is high." However, she pointed out that a lower exchange rate would also mean a loss of spending power for New Zealanders.
EPMU director of organising Alan Clarence said the union wanted the community to get behind the campaign.
"It's about saving the smelter and the town [Invercargill], and we want the government to step up, get involved and help broker a deal with Meridian," he said.
Mr Hobbs was hopeful 20,000 people would sign the petition postcards, which have gone to to retail outlets in Invercargill.
NZAS general manager Ryan Cavanagh declined to comment yesterday.
His spokeswoman, community relations officer Andrea Carson, said:
"We appreciate the support NZAS has received from the community and all of our stakeholders . . . we are also continuing discussions with our key suppliers and stakeholders. They are starting to understand the gravity of the situation and are responding to help return NZAS to viability”.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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