Aluminium Workers’ Contract Hinges on Price of Energy Skip to content
ISAL aluminium smelter Straumsvík
Photo: A screenshot from RÚV.

Aluminium Workers’ Contract Hinges on Price of Energy

Three hundred workers in Rio Tinto’s ISAL aluminium smelter could see their collective agreement nullified in June if the National Power Company and Rio Tinto do not reach an agreement about the cost of power supplied to the smelter, RÚV reports. The National Power Company’s CEO says it is “unreasonable” for the contract to hinge on that factor, but says the company will not let it impact their negotiations with Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto says energy costs hamper competitiveness

The workers’ collective agreement, which was signed in March, is valid for two years. It contains a clause, however, that makes it invalid as of June 30 if an energy supply contract has not been renegotiated between Rio Tinto and the National Power Company. The ISAL smelter, located in Southwest Iceland, has been running at a loss for the past eight years, and its executives point to high energy costs as one of the reasons.

National Power Company CEO Hörður Arnarson says his company did not know about the contract clause until it was reported on yesterday by Morgunblaðið. “I find it a very unreasonable development, both in collective agreement negotiations and in negotiations of energy contracts, to connect two unrelated parties in this way,” Hörður stated. “The only reason I can see for doing this is that they believe it will put added pressure on the National Power Company, but it won’t have that effect.”

“These are difficult conditions. Markets are closing for them,” Hörður added. “We will look for ways to find a common solution but it’s completely unclear whether we will agree on one.”

Smelter may close for two years

Rio Tinto is considering suspending production at the ISAL plant for two years due to the downturn in the market caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The metal and mining company is also preparing a lawsuit against Iceland’s National Power Company intended to release Rio Tinto from a large part of the electricity purchase obligation to which it is subject.

The ISAL smelter is one of the largest employers in the town of Hafnarfjörður and according to its mayor, has a “synergistic effect on other companies in town.”

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