350 jobs to go as smelter closes
ALMOST 350 workers will join the ranks of the unemployed following the closure of an aluminium smelter in the Hunter Valley.
Norwegian company Norsk Hydro announced yesterday (Wednesday) it would shut its plant at Kurri Kurri after profits were slashed due to low metal prices and the strong Australian dollar.
Workers have been aware for months of the possibility of a closure, with the company taking 200 redundancies since November in an attempt to streamline the operation, Sydney media report.
But Australian Workers Union site delegate Paul O’Brien says it still came as a blow.
The average age of workers at the site is over 50, making it even more challenging for many to find another job.
“Although it was half expected, it’s still devastating,” says Mr O’Brien.
“It still hurts to receive the message you don’t have a job any more and you won’t be able to support your family.
“Young guys who have only been here a little while are going to suffer with redundancy payments and the older guys are going to find it difficult to find re-employment.”
Mr O’Brien says workers had done what they could to cut costs ‘but global costs are out of our control”.
In January, Norsk Hydro made 150 redundancies at the smelter after cutting back its production.
A subsequent review of the plant has revealed it would not be profitable in the short term, and its long-term viability would be negatively affected by increasing energy costs and the carbon tax, Norsk Hydro says.
“Our Kurri Kurri workforce has worked intensively to improve the plant’s cost position and no stone has been left unturned,” vice president of primary metal, Hilde Merete Aasheim, says in a statement.
“The current cash losses are significant, with no sign of improvement anytime soon.
“We have therefore started to consult about full curtailment and will maintain a close dialogue with employees, unions and local stakeholders.”
Meanwhile, federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, says those laid off are among the first victims of the carbon tax.
“It’s an absolute tragedy because Australia should be a world leader in these sorts of manufacturing activities,” Mr Abbott’s told Sydney media today (Wednesday).
“We should have an abundance of cheap energy in this country because of our coal and our gas.
“The trouble is we are deliberately making our energy more expensive – that’s the whole point of a carbon tax.
“The wrecking ball has started to swing through our economy and I regret to say the workers at Kurri Kurri are amongst the first victims.”
The smelter employs 344 people.