WORKERS at one of Northumberland’s biggest employers could be set to go on strike.
A group of 122 employees at Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminium smelter at Lynemouth are to be balloted on industrial action over the company’s proposals to make changes to shift patterns.
The Journal has been told the company is proposing alterations for workers in the smelter’s pot rooms, casting and carbon sections.
Negotiations have taken place with the GMB union, which represents workers across all areas.
There has been no dispute with the workers from the casting and carbon teams. However, months of talks have failed to resolve disagreements between the company and those in the pot rooms, with the employer also not agreeing to the workers’ counter proposals.
The proposal they can not agree on is to move from a five-shift system to a four-shift pattern, as of September 19.
Workers feel the changes are “unnecessary” and “very disruptive in terms of work/life balance”.
Negotiations will continue but the union yesterday served notice on the company of its intention to ballot the 122 pot room operators on industrial action.
The ballot will open on September 9 and end on September 23.
Keir Howe, the union’s full-time official and organiser at the smelter, last night said whether that action constituted a strike or action short of a strike would be resolved once the results of the ballot are known.
She said: “We are still happy to sit round the table and negotiate at any point with the employer.
“(The changes) we think are unnecessary and very disruptive in terms of work/life balance as well. We are balloting for industrial action, not deciding what industrial action that would be.
“We do not know whether it is strike or whether it is action short of strike.”
No one at Rio Tinto Alcan smelter was available for comment yesterday. The company also operates a power station at Lynemouth and is Northumberland’s biggest private sector employer. It employs a total of 630 people.
The company is currently carrying out a review of options for the future of both sites.
The Journal revealed earlier this week that Rio Tinto Alcan has been holding discussions with two companies interested in buying it out. One of them is interested in the smelter, and the other the power station.
The company has also lodged plans with Northumberland County Council for a multi--million pound fuel conversion project. That would see it switch from coal-fired to biomass generation for its power needs.
The county council is recommending its members approve the plans at a meeting next week.