Paul Henning says his committement to not reduce Rio Tinto Alcan’s workforce through layoffs has held.
The vice president of RTA’s strategic projects Western Canada said that it’s not been easy but retirements and early retirements have held as the means to bring the smelter from 1,500 workers to around 1,000, he said.
“Credit to the operations folks, management and the union to make sure that is the case,” he said, speaking via teleconference from Vancouver.
Henning provided an update on modernization, saying that work is at least 50 per cent completed on the project, perhaps close to 60 per cent.
He said the schedule remains effectively the same. The new plant will begin being energized by the end of 2014, and full production will ramp up in the early parts of 2015.
He explained it’s a normal procedure, as an aluminum smelter doesn’t start up as easily as a sawmill would.
“It’s not like starting a sawmill or a paper mill. It doesn’t all come on. We have 384 individual electrolysis cells that will be started up in sequence at a rate of anywhere between five and 15 a week, so it takes time,” he said.
Speaking on the spending slowdown which RTA announced late last year, he said while spending slowed, construction didn’t, and a mild winter benefited the project in some ways.
“In some regards we probably accelerated certain elements of the physical construction,” he said, partly through the lack of snow.
Right now there are about 1,200 workers on the project, with 1,000 of those living in the camp. He said 300 people working on the project but not in the camp come from the Kitimat and Terrace area.
“This is by far a Canadian worker-driven project,” he said, saying many other workers are from Canada, mostly from B.C.
He didn’t specifically say how many were temporary foreign workers from the United States.
As for the ongoing issue of increased sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels at the new plant, he said that the company did receive their amended environmental permit, but an appeal process has been initiated.
He repeated earlier statements from others in the company that while SO2 is increasing about 56 per cent overall, the per tonne emissions are remaining the same from the old smelter, and the increase of 27 tonnes a day to 42 is a factor of higher production.
With last year’s signing of a new labour agreement with the CAW 2301 union, he said they’ll be set in that regard to 2017. He said that the rest of 2013, on the operations side, will be finding workers their new roles in the new smelter, and then in 2015 will be pushing hard on new training.
“That’s tight,” he said of the timeline. “It’s a challenge because you can’t go too early because we still have the old plant to run…can’t go too early because those people would be trained but not have the new plant to use the new skills on.”
The smelter rebuild is budgeted at an estimated $3.3 billion dollars, not including the second tunnel at the Kemano powerhouse.