Tiwai workers and the Southland community will now have time to plan a proper transition with the future of the Rio Tinto smelter secured for the next four years.
On January 14, it was announced that the smelter’s owner, Rio Tinto, has signed a contract with electricity provider Meridian Energy to keep the operation open until the end of 2024.
Originally, the company had proposed to close the smelter at the end of its contract in August, potentially impacting around 1000 workers and putting many local businesses and suppliers at risk.
Delegate Owen Evans says the majority of Tiwai workers are “quite happy with the decision” about the contract extension.
“For those with big mortgages and families, it’s been a relief for them. For younger ones, it removes the panic of having to search for a job immediately,” he says.
“Workers can stay at Tiwai in the interim and have the time to upskill to other roles they may want to do in future.”
The announcement is positive for many others in the community too, Owen says.
“A lot of people – for example, those in operations, suppliers, or food places – also rely on Tiwai.”
Owen says since the closure was first proposed, it’s been a struggle to attract new workers, with many leaving the company.
He says he hopes that will change thanks to the certainty the new contract provides.
Joe Gallagher, a negotiation specialist at E tū, says the news is a “win” for workers, the union and the community to enable a ‘Just Transition’.
“Four years gives everyone a lot of time to make choices about the future – whether that’s training, looking at different industries.
“Now people have a chance to put together a plan. It’s an opportunity for all parties, including the union, to put a frame around how things will look in 2024 and beyond.”
Since the proposed closure was announced last year, E tū has called on the company and the Government for a Just Transition to make sure the impact of switching to low-carbon or alternative industries doesn’t fall disproportionately on workers and their communities.
Joe says now there’s a new opportunity to set an example of a Just Transition model.
“We can make it the gold standard for what might help other communities to deal with this same question,” he says.
information and comment:
Joe Gallagher, 027 591 0015