Hundreds of former Alcan workers are embroiled in a legal battle with the employer over a cash payout, The Journal can reveal.
The GMB Union, on behalf of people who lost their jobs at Rio Tinto Alcan when the plant in Lynemouth, Northumberland, closed, has launched employment tribunal proceedings against the company.
It is said the firm failed to consult properly with staff when it announced the aluminium smelter would close in early 2012.
Now, the Canadian company could be forced to pay out tens of thousands of pounds in compensation amid claims it failed to consult properly.
The plant was one of Northumberland’s largest employers and more than 500 found themselves out of work in what the GMB described at the time as a “body blow” and “devastating” for workers.
Despite speaking to several former Alcan workers last night, no-one was prepared to comment to The Journal on the proceedings as former staff are bound by a confidentiality clause.
A protective award payment is given to staff when businesses make redundancies and bosses fail to consult adequately with staff.
It is calculated based on an employee’s weekly wage and can include up to 90 days’ pay.
The Journal understands the union expects to settle the claim before a full employment tribunal is necessary.
A spokesman for the GMB said: “The GMB currently have a protective award claim lodged in tribunal against Rio Tinto Alcan. I can say that we are hoping to settle this claim with the employer but can offer no further comments due to confidentiality.”
A spokesman for Rio Tinto Alcan said: “Rio Tinto has no comment to make on this matter.”
The Lynemouth smelter opened in 1972 and, before its closure, was estimated to contribute £60m to Northumberland’s economy.
Staff were made redundant in two stages. Around 323 lost their jobs following a 90-day consultation period in March 2012 with the remaining workers staying to wind down the site.
Rio Tinto Alcan said rising energy costs meant the plant was no longer a viable part of the business.
Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick upon Tweed, said the closure of the plant was a blow to the area.
He said: “The closure of the smelter at Lynemouth was a serious concern but I understand around 90% of the people who worked there have found alternative work, gone into full time education or retired. This reflects the high skills base of the employees at the smelter, such as in engineering, which is in high demand amongst employers and is a sector which we need to train more people to work in. The Lynemouth legacy fund has also resulted in donations of over £600,000 to local organisations and charities.”
The employment tribunal hearing is listed for Newcastle’s Quayside House for the week commencing March 10.
It was revealed last month that the Queen’s property company, the Crown Estate, has bought the land linked to Rio Tinto’s mothballed aluminium smelter.
Eight remaining farm workers have been made redundant