By Pádraig Hoare
The Government cannot become complacent about the risk to more than 650 jobs at Aughinish Alumina in Limerick even though fears are easing about the Trump Administration’s targeting of its Russian owner Rusal.
That is according to Limerick TD, Niall Collins who was speaking as the White House moved to further soften its stance against Rusal, whose majority owner Oleg Deripaska was accused of having too close ties to the Kremlin.
Some 450 jobs and more than 200 agency roles were under threat at Aughinish, as sanctions imposed on Mr Deripaska’s companies played havoc with metal markets over the past number of weeks.
Shares in Rusal plummeted as sanctions sent the entire aluminium industry scrambling to restore supply chains. Rusal’s refining operations, which stretch from Aughinish to Jamaica, are a vital cog in a global supply chain.
Global mining firm Rio Tinto has plants in Dunkirk, France, and Iceland that use the Irish alumina, and Liberty House Group’s Scottish smelter also depends on the site.
Rio Tinto, which buys and sells to Rusal and jointly owns an alumina refinery in Australia, said last month it would declare force majeure on some contracts, which allows a firm not to deliver on contracts due to circumstances outside its control.
An amendment by the US Treasury to its Russian sanctions programme may greatly reduce the restrictions on Rusal, Rio Tinto chief executive Jean Sebastien Jacques said yesterday.
The US Treasury this week gave investors an additional month to divest or transfer their holdings in sanctions targets, including Rusal. Shares in Rusal have begun to recover since the crisis saw it lose more than half its value. They were up more than 8% yesterday. The US has said previously it would consider lifting sanctions if Mr Deripaska, who holds a 48% stake in Rusal, ceded control of the firm. Mr Deripaska has agreed to cut his shareholdings.
Under the latest US Treasury amendment, the deadline to divest financial holdings in sanctions targets would be extended to June 6 from May 7.
Mr Collins said the new deadline gave “time and space” for Rusal to get its house in order, thereby reducing the worry among the Limerick-based workers, who were inadvertently caught up in a diplomatic spat that had little to do with them.
“The best case scenario is for Mr Deripaska to divest his interest. However the Government cannot rest on its laurels and must keep the dialogue open to ensure the jobs, which are vital for the area, are preserved,” he said.