Union says workers sweating over Rio’s cost-cutting plans

WORRIED alumina workers are already bombarding the unions on whether they'll be the next to lose their jobs in Gladstone, in an industry that is continually cutting costs and culling jobs.

While the unions are intent on ensuring the plants are viable and safely run, economists say the outcome in Gladstone will depend on whether Rio Tinto is willing to wait for the global market to change or cut more of its losses and run.

While the unions say that Queensland Alumina Limited is sitting in a positive spot, they say the news isn't all that positive for Rio's Yarwun site, which has been plagued with problems of late, and the concerns of electricity prices and cut backs at Boyne Smelter Limited.

The Australian Mines and Metals Association has also weighed in, calling for legislative change and policy initiatives to lift competitiveness in the industry.

The concerns come following warnings from Rio Tinto that pressures that led to the closure of the Gove alumina refinery in the Territory are creeping into the two refineries at Gladstone.

The Australian Workers Union's Gladstone organiser Tony Beers said it was understandable the industry was looking for all the cost-saving measures it could find, but from the union's point of view there would be no compromise on cuts where it compromised safety.

"We've been fielding calls since the Gove (closure) announcement, from Boyne Smelter, Rio Tinto Yarwun and we have already been engaged in dialogue with workers at QAL," he said.

The Australia Institute senior economist Matt Grudnoff said the big resource companies were well aware of the ups and downs of the global market.

"But whether they're willing to wait for it to come down again is another question," he said.

Rio Tinto Alcan said it wasn't saying anything further on the matter.


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