New Caledonia urges nickel workers to help keep SLN open

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The New Caledonian government is urging unions representing workers at the country’s largest nickel mining firm to accept reduced working hours in order to stave off job losses.

The firm, SLN, says it has suffered badly due to falling commodity prices, and will have to cut production this year by 20 per cent.

Despite reporting nearly $US880 million in profits last year, SLN says it’s currently losing about $US1 million a day.

Management are conducting negotiations with union officials to try to persuade them to agree to a 10 per cent reduction in hours, to help the firm ride out the financial crisis without sacking workers.

The unions have been pushing for the phasing-out of overtime, and the introduction of temporary and contract positions, saying these measures should be attempted first before cutting fulltime hours and wages.

Now, government spokesman Pascal Vittori has weighed into the debate, urging SLN workers to consider the company’s offer, and emphasising the importance of the nickel industry to the New Caledonian economy.

He says it’s essential the firm stays open.

“We think it is necessary to save SLN and also to pay the salaries,” he said.

“The unions are responsible; they know the nickel economy is very [important], and I think they will accept. The only thing is that SLN earned a lot of money this last year, so they are negotiating so that SLN keeps its responsibilities in terms of salaries.”

However Mr Vittori rejects suggestions the country’s overall economy would be damaged if SLN is forced to halt operations.

“The economy of New Caledonia is dependent on nickel, but only for about 10 per cent [of income]. The rest of the economy is not touched by the eocnomic crisis at the moment,” he said.