MORE than 4,000 people have put pen to paper to urge the Government to save the Alcan smelter in Lynemouth.
The GMB union organised the Save our Smelter petition to urge ministers to do all they can for the site as 510 people will lose their jobs if a buyer cannot be found for the Rio Tinto Alcan aluminium facility.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery handed over the signatures at Westminster and hundreds of people have also supported the campaign by putting their name to an online petition.
GMB regional organiser Keir Howe said: “There was a fantastic response to both our petitions, which shows the strength of feeling in the community about the importance of saving the smelter.
“We worked closely with Unite to get as many signatures as possible and we received support from across the region as Alcan brings a lot of money into the North East economy. A number of businesses also helped out by taking the paper petition into their shop or offices.”
Meanwhile, the union has criticised the company for going back on a verbal agreement as talks continue over issues such as employee bonus payments and tax.
Ms Howe added: “Earlier in the consultation process we were annoyed that Rio Tinto Alcan management were putting forward a different option on trying to save sections of the site on a weekly basis, but none of them were going to result in saving jobs in the long-term, and they reneged upon a verbal agreement we had with them.
“New terms have been offered and I hope that if all the details are agreed, the company will not backtrack this time.
“As the consultation process is coming to an end, saving the jobs at the smelter is becoming more difficult.
“We are looking to secure some positions at the casthouse, which could be run as a stand-alone facility, until the end of the year. This short-term measure would give potential buyers time to come forward.”
But managers at Alcan have defended their conduct through the consultation process and say improved terms have been offered to workers.
In response to the GMB’s criticism, the site’s Corporate Affairs Director John McCabe said: “We have conducted the process with transparency and with respect for all concerned.
“The unions asked us to extend the consultation process and we did. They asked for a meeting with a senior executive of the company and our global chief executive flew in from Montreal for a meeting with them.
“The situation has evolved throughout the consultation process, but that has been as a result of our exploring every possible means for minimising the number of redundancies and mitigating the impact on those affected.
“The redundancy terms have indeed changed, but they are now more advantageous to the workforce as we have enhanced the terms of redundancy and added bonuses to the final calculations. We hope this significant change in the redundancy terms will be welcomed by the workforce.”
Mr McCabe added: “The number of signatures on the petitions demonstrates the importance of our role in the Northumberland community. This will remain the case in the future as we are working hard to support the south east Northumberland economy going forward.”
Rio Tinto has said that the introduction of new green taxes from 2013 has forced the closure because Alcan is already a high-cost operation.
Talks are ongoing with a potential buyer for the site’s power station.
If successful, this would save the 111 employees working there at the moment because of the TUPE [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations] process.