LONDON Mar 21, 2012 (Dow Jones) -- Rio Tinto Alcan began talks with union representatives Monday to secure a new labor contract and end a lockout period that has lasted nearly three months.
"A government-appointed mediator called parties to the table" on Monday and talks continued today, company spokesman Bryan Tucker told Dow Jones Newswires on Tuesday. He noted that this was the first time that the company had sat down with the union representatives since the end of last year, when the last labor contract expired.
Rio Tinto Alcan, of Montreal, locked out 755 unionized workers at its 438,000-ton-a-year Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean aluminum smelter in northern Quebec on Jan 1. Both parties had started negotiations in October but failed to reach an agreement before the contract expired on Dec. 31, Tucker said.
There were two key sticking points in those talks, he added. Union representatives wanted a minimum number of union members to be employed by the firm and union members wanted that no or very few subcontractors be used for noncore activities, Tucker said. Rio Tinto Alcan wants to use subcontractors for noncore activities, he added.
The aluminum smelter, one of four that Rio Tinto owns in the region, is operating at a third of its full production capacity, based on a work force of 224 nonunionized workers, Tucker said.
Tucker added that labor relations are good at the other three aluminum operations and that the other three plants are operating normally.
He didn't want to disclose the nature of the contract discussion but said that "the priority for us is that the process follows it course," and that we cooperate with the mediator.