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End of an era

Published:Saturday | April 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM
A mobile stone crusher acquired by Windalco for use at its new lime facility at Kirkvine.
The Windalco plant in Manchester when operating at full throttle. - File

 The West Indies Alumina Company (Windalco) made 762 permanent employees redundant on Wednesday, a year after suspending operations at the Kirkvine, Manchester and Ewarton, St Catherine refineries due to a fall in demand for aluminium on the world market.

However, president of the National Workers Union (NWU) which represents the workers, Vincent Morrison, in describing the redundancy as the end of an era stretching back over 50 years, says he expects that within a year the world situation will turn around.

Morrison told The Gleaner that based on reports, the process went 'pretty smoothly' as the workers were prepared for it for some time.

Windalco's senior communica-tions officer, Kayon Wallace, who last month re-confirmed the company's decision to send home the workers, said on Wednesday that the process was kept on schedule.

As of April 1, a small com-plement of contract workers will be responsible for preserving the company's assets and meeting the legal and community obligations of the company.

Windalco is a joint venture between the Government of Jamaica, which owns seven per cent, and the Russian company UC RUSAL, the world's largest producer of aluminium and alumina, which owns the other 93 per cent.

Workers were put on a three-day work week on April 1 last year as demand for bauxite on the world market fell.

In January, the company decided to make the workers redundant as of March 31, 2010.

Morrison said the union was hoping that during the period a change would have been made for the better, with workers reverting to full-time employment; but this was not to be.

Morrison is now urging the government to have the plant in a state of readiness if the tide turns.

Government's court

"The ball is fully in the government's court. Government, as minority shareholder, will have to push the owners a little bit harder to have them put the plant in a state of readiness so when the international situation changes we will be up and ready," said Morrison.

The workers, who were made aware of the redundancy exercise earlier this year, were made more mentally prepared for the process leading up to Wednesday, as they were put through counselling sessions and financial manage-ment seminars.

"From January 6, we used the time frame to deal with consultations and discussions between the union and the management and the process was served very well; we cleared up all the issues, contractual and legal," said the NWU president.

Morrison said the only outstanding issue was the pension fund, which he described as a work in progress.

- Carl Gilchrist