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Around two thirds of the 140-strong workforce at the Lochaber smelter in Fort William are to be consulted on whether to have a formal ballot on industrial action in a dispute over pay.
The move was agreed at a meeting at the Fort William plant last week, and is expected to take place in the first two weeks of February when a vote will be held on whether to proceed to the formal ballot on industrial action.
The decision was confirmed to the Lochaber Times this week by the Unite trade union which has some 90 members employed at the smelter.
When asked to comment, Unite Regional Officer Richard Whyte told us: ‘Yes, the union members have asked to be balloted in the face of a zero pay rise.
‘In December, the smelter celebrated its 90th year and CEO Douglas Dawson said that the company was in Lochaber for the long term and would be investing millions.
‘So the workforce is seeking a tiny investment from the company which will have a big impact in securing their family income from erosion by cost of living rises.
‘The ballot result is expected in early February and is only the first of several steps before any industrial action could take place.’
Unite claims this is the second year in which its members have had a zero pay rise, which means, in effect, that workers have had a pay freeze during a period in which company bosses have publicly trumpeted plans for a multi-million-pound alloy wheels plant and extensive other investment in the local area.
‘That’s why people are becoming frustrated,’ added Mr Whyte, who claimed the amount of actual money needed to give workers an acceptable pay settlement would be less than £200,000.
And he says the union and its members are ‘110 per cent committed’ to the smelter and its future. ‘We are happy to work with the company and the Scottish and UK governments to secure the future of the business,’ said Mr Whyte.
Asked to comment, a spokesman for GFG Alliance which owns the smelter – now rebranded as GFG’s Alvance British Aluminium – told us: ‘We are in constructive talks with the union over the future pay of our employees at the Lochaber smelter.
‘Since the GFG Alliance took ownership of the smelter and hydro plant in 2016, our employees have received a bonus every year and we hope to continue that.
‘GFG is committed to creating and maintaining good jobs in Fort William. As well as saving almost 200 jobs at the time of acquisition, employment at the smelter and hydro plant has since increased by 25 per cent.’