THE final shift will take place today at Lynemouth’s aluminium smelter.
A total of 290 staff at Rio Tinto Alcan will see their contracts officially terminate today, but there has been a steady stream of workers leaving throughout the week after completing their last shift.
About 150 people will remain on the site as carbon and casting operations continue and as part of the decommissioning team.
The company announced in November last year that it was planning to close the smelter due to new carbon emission taxes and a drop in the price of aluminium, and after an extended consultation period with workers and unions, news came in March that no buyer had been found and there was no hope of saving it from the axe.
Now 40 years of production has come to an end.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said: “It is a very sad and disappointing end to an era, not just for Alcan, but for the people and the families who have worked there. It is really a disaster for them.
“We can only hope that we can create some form of employment in the region and that these people will be successful in gaining some meaningful employment.
“It is a dark day and it is very disappointing bearing in mind that Alcan has been a fantastic firm for well over 40 years in the region. To see it end this way is still really puzzling. As far as I’m concerned, it was still making a profit, it had good order books and a fantastic workforce. Everything was going swimmingly so it is puzzling why these people now find themselves unemployed.”
Mr Lavery says talks are progressing for Enterprise Zone status to be extended to the site and he has met with Ministers and spoken in Parliament to pile on the pressure.
“Our efforts are progressing. I have laid out a political strategy and an industrial strategy to try to get as much support as possible and I have raised the issue in the House of Commons a number of times,” he said.
Rio Tinto Alcan has hosted several events to try to help its staff find alternative work, including providing training for self-employment, an on-site careers centre and a jobs fair, which resulted in some workers finding employment with Nissan and Nestle.
Official figures from the company show that a total of 208 staff have resolved their redundancy in a variety of ways.
There are 28 staff retiring, 32 entering self-employment, 40 who have found work at other Rio Tinto Alcan sites around the world, 40 who are moving on to jobs with other employers and 68 who have been re-employed at Lynemouth as part of the decommissioning team.
Alcan Regional Economic Development Director John McCabe said the true figure for those finding other jobs will be even higher.
“The figures are updated every week and there are a large number of people who anecdotally we know have got employment, but we haven’t yet been officially informed. The official figure is a very conservative estimate and over the next couple of weeks, when we get more paperwork back, it will be significantly higher.”
The company has also invited a global aluminium business based in the Middle East to speak to staff in the next few weeks, with about 130 workers expecting interviews.
Mr McCabe said: “We have got a major global aluminium company coming to the North East in a couple of weeks and they will interview around 130 people. Essentially, there are potentially that number of positions available. It is based overseas in the Middle East so it is not going to be something that everybody wants to take up, but it is an option and it is something that a lot of people at least want to look into.”
The carbon plant at Lynemouth, which employs about 20 people, will run until July and the casting plant, where there are about 60 workers, will continue operating until the end of the year.
Work is now under way to secure the sale of the neighbouring power station, with a deal expected to be completed by the end of the year, and to find a buyer for the smelter site who could bring new jobs to the area.
A legacy project for the area, with significant investment, is due to be announced in the next few weeks. One of those leaving Alcan today is Peter Davidson, from Ellington, who has worked at the plant for 12 years.
The 43-year-old carbon plant engineer has decided to turn his passion for drawings depicting Northumberland’s mining and industrial heritage into a new career as a professional artist, under the name of Deetz.
He said: “I’m excited about taking my career in a different direction, but it is very nerve- wracking too.
“Everyone on site has been incredibly supportive. I’ve also had some advice from the company’s outplacement support team so I know how to set up my business to make a living.”
Mr Davidson has strong links with local galleries and will be taking on commissions, as well as displaying his work at markets.
He is currently working on a picture of the smelter.