Alcoa clarified on Tuesday media reports that it has offered Point Henry smelter workers job offers in Saudi Arabia to work in a joint venture project.
"There is no 'exodus of senior' staff from Alcoa'a Point Henry smelter. Only one manager has joined the Saudi JV project from Point Henry smelter," an Alcoa spokeswoman said.
She stressed that the ongoing six-month review of the Point Henry smelter, which ends in June and could affect 600 employees, was prompted by current economic conditions and is not connected to the Saudi joint venture project in Ras al Khair.
The Saudi project aims to be the world's cheapest and most efficient aluminium producer. It is expected to go online in 2013. Besides the one supervisor from the Point Henry facility, a very small number of workers are from Australia - 10 from Alcoa's Western Australia operations and 7 from Victoria - out of a total of about 6,000 Alcoa employees in Australia.
The spokeswoman said the bulk of the workers in the Saudi Arabia plant would be Saudi Arabians, but at the same time Alcoa opened opportunities for Alcoa employees from all over the world to help build and commission the new mining, refining, smelting and aluminium rolling facilities in Saudi Arabia.
She added that the majority of those foreign workers came from the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America. The spokeswoman also pointed out that when Alcoa's operations in Australia started in the early 1960s, "it was done with the help of overseas expertise, particularly from the United States."
"Since then, Australians have helped build and commission refineries and smelters in many other parts of the world," the spokeswoman said, adding that such opportunities are normal within a global organisation.
Australian Workers Union Victorian Secretary Cesar Melhem was quoted by Perth Now that the opportunity to help set up the Saudi Arabia plant was announced a few months ago and was considered by the union as a "non-issue."
On Feb 8, Alcoa announced that it started a review of the future viability of its Point Henry aluminium smelter in Geelong, Victoria due to the continuing global economic conditions facing the smelting industry. Alan Cransberg, managing director of Alcoa in Australia, cited the combination of several factors, including metal prices, input costs and exchange rates, as contributing to Point Henry smelter operations becoming unprofitable.
The spokeswoman said the 600 Point Henry smelter workers continue to report for work and the operations of the facility is ongoing simultaneous with the review of the plant operations.
"Our goal is for Point Henry to continue operating and meet its profitability targets. However one possible outcome of the review is that production of Point Henry may be curtailed," Mr Cransberg said in a statement.