Man dies at Rio’s Bell Bay smelter

 A man has died at Rio Tinto’s Bell Bay aluminium smelter.

Tasmania‘s Workplace Standard say a 65 year old man died at the smelter on Wednesday night, according to the ABC.

However the incident was not due to an industrial accident, with Australian Workers’ Union organisers telling  The Mercury that the electrican had died of natural causes at the plant’s substation.

Police state that it may take some time to determine the cause of death.

The smelter is providing counselling services and support the man’s workmates.

It comes as Rio Tinto has reportedly threatened workers’ pay and conditions at the smelter.

The fight between the miner and the Australian Workers’ Union last year saw a number of recriminations after Rio was accused of breaking International Labor Organisation (ILO) conventions.

The AWU claimed that the Bell Bay employees were “harassed and intimidated’ due to their union links.

Some of the alleged intimidation included workers being paid $20 000 less than their mainland compatriots, as well as denying employees access to a crib room to meet on health and safety issues.

The AWU is claiming that Rio Tinto has again begun to intimidate workers, with national secretary Paul Howes saying "despite public statements claiming they support freedom of association, Rio is returning to the same old campaign of fear and intimidation".

It comes as it tries to renegotiate pay and conditions at the smelter.

"There is close to 70 per cent support among the smelter’s 500 workers for a union-negotiated collective deal and an application will be lodged with Fair Work Australia within weeks," Howes said.

"In closed-door information sessions held with workers, Rio managers have told employees "everything goes back to the award” if the company is required to negotiate a collective agreement with the union."

He went on to say that "explaining what terms and conditions can be covered by the union agreement, the workers were told: "if you start negotiations, all existing terms and conditions, and all benefits, are on the table."

According to Howes one manager even told workers: "your salary increases, your bonuses that you get will be on the table."

Rio Tinto has denied the claims, and said it respected the rights of workers to join a union.

Late last year Rio Tinto announced that it will divest its Australian alumina assets.

Rio Tinto chief Tom Albanese said the "assets identified for divestment are sounds businesses….but are no longer aligned with our strategy".

However, Albanese did not put a timeline on the move, stating that "we can choose the most opportune method and timing to divest these assets, which may not occur until the economic climate improves".

Howes said nearly 5000 workers’ jobs were at risk from this divestment.

Across the Bight, uncertainty still reigns at Alcoa’s Point Henry smelter following Alcoa’s announcement of a review of its ‘future viability’.

The AWU has hit out at the announcement, with Victorian secretary Cesar Melhem saying "if Alcoa had reinvested some of its profits into the plant it would not be under threat now. It is an ageing facility which has been treated with corporate contempt".

Melhem said that a number of jobs were at risk, particularly after the company’s statement that its review could ‘curtail’ the operations, raising fears of mass layoffs.

Regarding the future of the its workers, Alcoa of Australia’s managing director Alan Cransberg, said "I know this is unsettling news that creates uncertainty for our employees and the many people that depend on the smelter for their livelihood".

"We will do all we can to ensure the smelter is competitive." 


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