Sell alumina at better prices to improve workers' pay, union suggests

Friday, October 20, 2017

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THE union representing approximately 600 workers at UC Rusal bauxite mining operations in Jamaica says the company could improve compensation packages for its employees if it sells alumina at better prices.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, following another round of talks with the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) over a multiple-point claim for workers, President of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE) Vincent Morrison said: “Basically, they are saying that they have been losing money and we are saying that when you compare what Australia sells its alumina for, we believe that if that was happening in Jamaica then the industry would be making money. They are doing well but the question is at what price they are selling the alumina”.

Russian company United Company (UC) RUSAL is the world's second-largest aluminium producer, and the parent company for UC Rusal Jamaica Limited.

The stalemate between the union and the bauxite company has been ongoing since November 2015, when the claim was served. Several meetings have been held between the parties, as well as the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and the issue escalated to the IDT in July of this year.

Morrison noted that UC Rusal also made its presentation to the IDT yesterday, and that talks will resume January 15 to 24 with a view to resolve the issues affecting the workers. He said the union is asking for a range of social protection for the bauxite workers at UC Rusal's Kirkvine plant in St Catherine, and Ewarton plant in Manchester, as well as those employed at Port Esquivel. The claim includes salaries, overtime payment, a health insurance scheme, a pension scheme, and lands for housing development through the National Housing Trust.

“What we are trying to do now is to restore benefits that were there prior to when they closed March 2010 and resumed in June 2010 — that's all we are asking, for the restoration of what was there. The point is that they resumed and they did away with all the benefits. The workers have complained that they work excessive overtime and they are not paid... when they work on public holidays they are not paid,” he explained.

Morrison noted that since operations resumed in 2010 the workers have only had one 10 per cent adjustment to their pay package in January 2016. He noted that all the workers formerly engaged by the company were made redundant and rehired at about 40 per cent less of previous salaries, on two-year contracts “with absolutely no fringe benefits”.

“This contract thing is criminal,” he lamented, pointing also to the long-standing cry from security guards for better compensation, adding, “we are going to have to pay for that down the road, because they have no benefits... It's wicked”.

Meanwhile, Human Resources Manager at UC Rusal Glendon Johnson declined to speak on the matter, stating that the company would rather not comment publicly due to the ongoing negotiations.

UC Rusal last year sold its Alpart plant in Nain, St Elizabeth to Chinese industrial group, Jiuquan Iron & Steel, for US$299 million as part of its asset optimisation and debt ratio reduction strategy, the company said.

— Alphea Saunders

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