THE parent company of the Lynemouth Alcan plant has come under fire for its decision to close the smelter.
Rio Tinto says it is streamlining its business because of rising costs since new environmental legislation came into force last year and a drop in the price of aluminium.
Although talks are ongoing to sell the power station, there has been no interest in the smelter and last week the company announced it was to close following a 90-day consultation with employee and union representatives, with more than 500 jobs to be lost as a result.
But this decision has been criticised by the GMB, the largest private sector union in the North East of England.
Keir Howe, GMB Northern Regional Organiser for Alcan, said: “GMB members are absolutely devastated by the announcement to close the smelter site and get rid of the workforce.
“This will have a huge impact on our members, their families and the local community.
“This decision by Rio Tinto is a disgrace.
“Rio Tinto bought this firm for several billions just a couple of years ago.
“It appears that they are dressing up a strategic review and the decision to close, to disguise the money they paid out at the very time when the world recession was starting to bite.
“We want to know if public money was used to get Rio Tinto to buy in the first place and if so what is going to happen about that.
“GMB members also want to know why they are making this decision yet saying for instance that the Power Station could be sold as a going concern.
“Why don’t they find other ways of keeping the plants open instead of making an announcement and then saying they are going to have a 90-day consultation?”
Meanwhile, leader of Britain’s Conservative MEPs Martin Callanan described the decision to close a Northumberland smelting plant as a disaster created by counter-productive environmental rules.
The plant would have required huge investment to reduce emissions and the purchase of pollution credits to meet new European Union limits that will come into force in 2013.
Mr Callanan said: “The grim irony is that the rules that crippled Alcan’s ability to compete will not save the planet an ounce of carbon emitted.
“British industry still needs the aluminium that was made here — only now it will be manufactured outside the EU and imported back here.
“Hundreds of high-quality manufacturing jobs will effectively have been exported to the other side of the world from a region that can ill-afford to lose them.”
Fellow North East MEP Fiona Hall has highlighted a 500million euro fund set up to help workers who are made redundant in a letter sent to Business Secretary Vince Cable.
She said: “A share of 500million euro is available where more than 500 people have lost their jobs. Sadly, that is the situation we face at Alcan.
“This money can help people set up their own business, look for a new job or get re-training. I know the Government has committed to provide support for the workers but we can do even more if we can secure additional funding.”
Lynemouth Alcan Director John McCabe said that the company would look to retrain the workers for any different roles available using its national network and there will be practical support for areas such as interview techniques and CV writing.
“We have got some exceptional and very highly-skilled people here and last Wednesday was a sad day for everyone.
“We are now working with organisations, the community and those who can create employment opportunities on what is currently our land.”
The Archdeacon of Lindisfarne, the Venerable Peter Robinson, has pledged that the Church will not forget those left behind when the aluminium smelter at Lynemouth is shut down.
He said: “Hundreds of workers and their families are wondering what the future holds for them and it’s not just Alcan staff but the thousands who earn their living in other ways that depend on the plant.
“They are facing tough times over money and their own sense of purpose and self-worth.
“From today we must all concentrate on the needs of the people who will be picking up the pieces after Alcan leaves.
“The Church won’t be leaving, and over the coming months and years we will be staying in and with those communities to help them discover the meaning for every life given by God and we will join our voices with all those calling on the Government to pay attention to south east Northumberland with ideas and support, and yes, money too.”
The Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Rev Martin Wharton, and his wife made a surprise visit to Newbiggin on Saturday to speak to members of the affected community.