Preserving good jobs for the future
Workers at Rio Tinto Alcan’s (RTA) aluminum smelter in Alma, Que., are not demanding higher wages or enhanced benefits. Our primary concern is protecting jobs for future generations. Rio Tinto wants to use more subcontractors to replace the good jobs of unionized workers as they retire.
In 2010 at Rio Tinto’s Alma smelter, the ratio of hours worked by subcontractors to hours worked by unionized workers was 10.7%, or 140,000 hours versus 1.3 million hours. The company has indicated it wants to increase the subcontracting ratio significantly in 2012, to 27%, or 350,000 hours.
During the negotiation process, our union made several proposals aimed at setting guidelines for the hiring of subcontractors. We suggested establishing minimum employment levels and job levels, and setting a cap on the ratio of hours worked by subcontracted workers versus those worked by unionized workers. We also suggested that RTA tailor the hiring of subcontractors based on the volume of activity.
Our union is not opposed to every form of subcontracting. Equipment suppliers and manufacturers, and the industrial sectors connected to the aluminum industry are already well-established and welcomed at the Alma plant.
Our union opposes the practice of hiring subcontracted workers to replace unionized workers, and paying them at half the wage rate. There must be equal pay for equal work.
We need to make sure that our future generations will have access to quality jobs.
Cheap hydroelectric power for quality jobs
For decades Rio Tinto Alcan has benefited from huge savings in the cost of hydroelectric power, equal to more than $500 million per year, not to mention all the interest-free loans they’ve received, funded by Quebeckers.
The government is allowing RTA to produce cheap electricity to power its high energy-consuming facilities. However, this significant competitive advantage, which has allowed the Alma plant to be particularly competitive, is part of an understanding: Quebec provides the cheap electricity and, in exchange, Alcan must provide good jobs.
The crucial balance is precisely what RTA is threatening today by attempting to systematically replace unionized workers with subcontracted workers paid at half the wage rate.
Currently, for every good job that is created from RTA operations, another 3.5 indirect jobs are created because of the positive economic benefits that are generated.
Today, RTA is seeking to reduce its total payroll drastically in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, so that the company can line the pockets of its senior executives in London and its shareholders even more. The company is forgetting that its ability to reap huge profits is primarily due to it paying so little for hydroelectric power, thanks to Quebeckers themselves.
A conflict funded by public money!
The current conflict at the Alma plant is the result of an imbalance in the power relationship between the company and the workers. In addition to being able to rely on an unusually high number of managers in its aluminum production, RTA can actually sell surplus electricity (that it no longer needs to produce aluminum due to the lockout it has imposed) to Hydro-Québec.
According to a secret agreement made public at the end of March, Hydro-Québec is required to buy this electricity from RTA – even if the state-owned utility doesn’t need it! Thus, in January, Hydro-Québec had to buy $10 million worth of electricity it didn’t need – and the meter is still running.
For more information, refer to the agreements posted on the Website of the newspaper Le Devoir (in French only).