Bauxite workers sent home

KINGSTON, Jamaica – The worsening global financial meltdown is continuing to have a devastating impact on the local bauxite industry with another 150 employees set to lose their jobs.

This time, it is the West Indies Alumina Company (Windalco) which is sending home workers and comes months after Alumina Partners of Jamaica (Alpart) also made 150 positions redundant.

Loading bauxite

Loading bauxite in a truck at a mine in Jamaica. Photo: File

However, the management at Windalco said the persons to be sent home this time around are non-permanent employees, who could be called back as the situation demands.

“We anticipate that no more than 150 non-permanent employees will be affected and we will still have an ongoing requirement for non-permanent labour in our operations,” said Andrew Currie, acting managing director of Windalco.

Currie said the staff cut comes as Windalco slashes its production by 35 per cent in response to the reduced world demand.

“There has been a significant reduction in demand from the sectors that typically use aluminium and its alloys. Other refineries around the world have already implemented the curtailment of production as a response to the downturn in the industry,” added Currie.

He admitted that it was difficult to assess when the demand for aluminium would improve, but said Windalco would continuously review its production levels.

Currie made it clear that no permanent employee would lose their jobs because of the reduction in production.

“Windalco has been on a cost-reduction drive since 2005 and will be taking additional measures to further reduce costs and assist the operations through these difficult times,” Currie said.

That is a position endorsed by the Ministry of Mining and Telecommunications which said the decision to reduce production at Windalco was a negotiated one.

“With the demand for bauxite down and inventories piling up, there was no point in turning out more, so we decided to cut production,” Marcia Forbes, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Mining, told The Gleaner yesterday.

Forbes accepted that some contract and part-time employees would be sent home, but argued that this was inevitable in the face of the global crisis.

“The Government has been working closely with the unions and in regular dialogue to minimise the impact,” added Forbes.

Mining Minister Derrick Smith had previously announced the possibility of job cuts in the sector.

“Based on what is happening and what some observers are suggesting could happen in the next 18 to 24 months, one cannot rule out the possibility of layoffs,” Smith had told a press conference at the start of this month.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Bruce Golding disclosed that the Government has been in intense discussions with the bauxite/alumina companies to try to avoid the closure of any alumina plants.

“The government has had to offer certain concessions and we may not be able to avoid a cutback in production, but we are doing everything possible to keep the plants in operation and save the jobs of the workers in the industry,” Golding said in a wide-ranging address to the nation when he announced measures to reduce the impact of the global meltdown.

Yesterday’s announcement from Windalco came hours after its parent company, the world’s largest aluminium producer, Russia’s United Company (UC RUSAL), disclosed plans to cut output by four per cent or around 180,000 tonnes.

UC RUSAL also announced plans to cut its staff by five per cent, mainly at its foreign production units.

United States aluminium giant Alcoa has also slashed 615,000 tonnes or 15 per cent of its aluminium-making capacity worldwide.

Aluminium prices fell from a high of over US$3,200 per tonne earlier this year to just over US$1,700 per tonne on the London Metal Exchange.