Tara Mines owner says staff cuts and work practice changes needed for ‘rescue’

Boliden, the Swedish owner of Tara Mines in Navan, Co Meath, has told workers at the facility that it must implement substantial job cuts and extensive changes to work practices under a “rescue plan” for the operation.

Representatives of the Tara Mines workforce plan to meet the Minister for Enterprise and Employment Simon Coveney on Wednesday to seek an intervention by Government to protect jobs at the mine which employed 650 when it was temporarily closed in June last year.

The mine was put into “care and maintenance” due to a combination of low international zinc prices and high energy and other costs. but the company gave a commitment at the time that staff would be brought back on the same terms and conditions. On Friday, however, its general manager, Gunnar Nystrom, wrote to employees outlining what was described as a “rescue plan” for the facility.

The plan includes job losses – some 200 have previously been mentioned – as well widespread changes to work practices and more effective use of new technology. The company says the mine is one of the most expensive of its type in the world to operate and needs to work very differently if it is to be viable in periods when zinc prices are not high.

Addressing commitments previously provided after talks at the Workplace Relations Commission last year, Mr Nystrom told staff in a letter seen by The Irish Times: “We understand that the rescue plan involves significant change for the organisation and all of our employees.

“We are fully aware of the letter of comfort that all employees have around guarantees on terms and conditions. Given that market conditions have not significantly changed we are now proposing a rescue plan to enable an earlier reopening of the mine and allow it to remain open. We want to protect existing levels of basic pay and in arriving at the rescue plan we have sought, insofar as possible, to protect current basic rates and conditions of employment.”

The three unions with members at the mine – Siptu, Unite and Connect – were critical of the plan and the company’s suggestion that it will not honour its previous undertakings when the two sides met at the WRC on Tuesday. They are due to return for further talks on January 22nd.

After Mr Nystrom’s letter was delivered to all employees on Friday, Siptu’s Adrian Kane said the staff should be allowed to work on their previous terms and conditions after which the company could open discussions on any plans it had for the future development of the facility.

“I think there would be a sense on all sides that there is some scope for some voluntary redundancies but we would certainly need to sit down and talk with the company about the number of job losses envisaged, the terms on which those would be agreed and the impact on the terms and conditions of the workers continuing to work at the mine.

“Beyond that it’s disappointing that the company is proposing not to honour the commitments it previously gave the staff. It seems that it is positioning itself in a very different space now. It’s not a situation we will accept.”

He said he hoped the Minister would intervene to facilitate the mine’s reopening and the Government would be supportive but that the union’s shop stewards would meet on Wednesday immediately after the engagement with Mr Coveney to consider “all options, including industrial action, to protect our members’ livelihoods and the wider economy of Meath and beyond”.

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