Operator of Tiwai Point aluminium smelter (pictured) New
Zealand Aluminium Smelters must decide whether to appeal a
lieu day claim valued at $19 million. Photo by Robert
Tiwai Point operator New Zealand Aluminium Smelters
(NZAS) is reviewing ''the implications'' of an Employment Court
decision, upholding a ruling that it must pay $19 million to
workers shortchanged over 23 years of lieu day entitlements.
NZAS, whose majority shareholder is Australian mining giant
Rio Tinto, has a month to lodge a request with the Court of
Appeal, based only on a point of law, to possibly gain leave
to appeal Friday's decision.
The future of the 43-year-old smelter near Bluff remains
clouded, with global aluminium prices still low, while Rio
Tinto's present commitment to the Government is to keep the
smelter open only until January 2017.
Rio Tinto gained a contentious $30 million government subsidy
last August, with expectations the next round of
renegotiations will be similarly tough, with up to 4000
regional jobs in the balance.
In 1991, 12-hour shifts were introduced at Tiwai but workers
were paid only eight hours for lieu days.
The Employment Court found in workers' favour a year ago.
NZAS appealed that decision, but it was subsequently upheld
in the Environment Court, in a decision released last Friday.
While 64 union members were represented by the Engineering,
Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) in the claim, NZAS
had earlier undertaken to pay all its staff if the decision
went against it, reflected in the large $19 million total.
Tiwai EPMU organiser Trevor Hobbs was contacted and said the
issue was not about an immediate $19 million ''pay-out'',
except to workers who had left the smelter, as those still
employed would have the lieu time added to their leave
''Workers can request payment, but it is at the discretion of
the company if they will allow them to cash up [accumulated
lieu] leave,'' Mr Hobbs said.
NZAS general manager Gretta Stephens was contacted, and
released a statement saying NZAS was ''disappointed in the
Through a spokeswoman, she said the company would be
''reviewing the implications for our business, during these
The ''challenging times'' include a global slump in aluminium
prices, Tiwai Point unsuccessfully put up for sale, and a
$91.5 million loss for 2012 before asset impairment
writedowns of $586.4 million.
From highs of $US3300 ($NZ3819) a tonne in 2008 and $US2800
in 2011, aluminium has been trading around $US1700 to $US1800
during the past year. When asked about the likelihood of an
appeal, the NZAS spokeswoman said lawyers were ''still
looking over the decision''.
Last August NZAS signed a new agreement with Meridian Energy
to purchase its power from Manapouri; equating to almost 15%
of New Zealand's power output.
However, that was against a politically charged background
with the Government giving NZAS $30 million, with the plant's
future at stake, and attracting more criticism because
state-owned Meridian was about to be partly floated.
Mr Hobbs said if the appeal period expired without an
application being lodged, he expected the EPMU would enter
discussions with NZAS over the claim. While Tiwai employed
824 staff in 2000, the entire on-site staff now numbered
about 650-700. Rio Tinto was not actively seeking to divest
assets this year but would consider any attractive offers,
chief executive Sam Walsh said on Friday, Reuters reported.
• Rio Tinto, the world's third-largest miner, has been
divesting assets it no longer considers core. Speculation has
centred on coal operations in Mozambique, South Africa and
Australia, but Mr Walsh said there were no firm plans.
''We have no need to divest any assets during 2014; we are
focusing on the final work to get our balance sheet back in
strength,'' he said.