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Bell Bay smelter jobs seem secure with new power deal
29/06/2012 - The future of 500 jobs at Tasmania's Bell Bay aluminium smelter appears secure after a new power deal between Pacific Aluminium and the Tasmanian government. David Beniuk
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Management says a new agreement with power producer Hydro Tasmania which runs until 2025, and other cost savings, mean the smelter will avoid closure despite tough market conditions that have claimed other Australian operations.
Thirty jobs will be shed but the continued operation of the smelter, owned by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, is being hailed a victory by Tasmanian premier Lara Giddings and union leaders.
Redundancies and "alternate roles" will be offered to affected employees.
"The new power arrangements and the improvements being implemented across our business provide a solid platform to secure the long-term future for the Bell Bay smelter," general manager Ray Mostogl said in a statement.
"With tough market conditions expected to continue for some time it is important that we remain focused on innovation, flexibility and adaptability."
The development comes as a huge boost to the Tasmanian economy, which is in the doldrums with a decline in the forestry industry.
Premier Giddings welcomed the news on Twitter, describing it as "a strong vote of confidence in our economy".
Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes said the power deal had come at a crucial time with the high Australian dollar and strong international competition making market conditions difficult.
"The new power deal will underpin the viability of the Pacific Aluminium smelter for the next decade and beyond," he said.
"This is great news for workers at Bell Bay. It will give them confidence in the future of their jobs, and in the future of their industry."
But Howes warned the future of aluminium production in other parts of the country remained in the balance.
"There is much more work to be done to improve the overall prospects of the aluminium sector on a national level, but Bell Bay is heading in the right direction," he said.
Pacific Aluminium says the smelter pumps $690 million into the Tasmanian economy annually and produces more than 180,000 tonnes of aluminium a year.
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