Rio Tinto crying wolf’

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    Tiwai worker Bridget Young with her children, James (2) and Hazel (6). Photo: Luisa Girao

    A New Zealand Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) worker and mother-of-two says the potential closure of the aluminium smelter would be devastating for her and thousands of other families across Southland.

    Technical specialist Bridget Young was one of about 100 people who attended the Southland Chamber of Commerce’s Fight for Fairness event held in Invercargill last Thursday.

    Mrs Young, who has worked at NZAS at Tiwai for five years, took her children James (2) and Hazel (6) to the event because she believed it was important to showcase the families impacted by the decision.

    “It will absolutely impact the future of my children. From a family perspective Tiwai has been so good to me and that’s why I wanted to get the family behind this because they know Tiwai provide me security.”

    If the closure went ahead, there was a “high chance” she and her family would need to to leave the region.

    “Contrary to comments in social media, I can’t work on a farm. Why would I give up everything that I enjoy doing to earn less money and do something that I don’t know how to do?”

    Workers at the plant were “apprehensive” but were trying to find strength and focus on doing their jobs with excellence, Mrs Young said.

    She said some people might think Rio Tinto Group, which owns NZAS was “bluffing” about its review, but NZAS chief executive Stew Hamilton said at the event it was the first time Rio Tinto had conducted a review at the plant and it was not a “crying wolf situation”.

    The transmission cost was the main factor the company was paying $60 million to $70 million a year for this, he said.

    “We absolutely should be paying for transmission. We use the service, we are a large consumer of electricity use about 12% of New Zealand’s power. However, we don’t think we should be paying such a significant amount for that service to get power from a dedicated power station to ourselves.”

    He said Tiwai and Meridian had a great partnership but over the years the value of the power station had grown to a point where Meridian now had a profit of more than $300 million, while Tiwai’s profit was very small.

    “Last year’s figure was $20 million. We are not saying that we expect Meridian to lose money from the power station are just saying the partnership needs to be rebalanced and fair.”

    Rio Tinto external relations director Jen Nolan urged people in Southland to make their voices heard and sign the online petition, which she said had almost 5500 signatures.

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