'Writing on wall' for smelters' 80 subcontractors

The 250 imminent job losses across the Hunter's two aluminium smelters could blow out to more than 300 with reports that at least 80 subcontractors at Norsk Hydro's Kurri Kurri plant also face the axe.

The Newcastle Herald understands that the Kurri plant and Tomago Aluminium each employ subcontractors who carry out maintenance work on the smelters' pots.

Industrial maintenance company Thomas and Coffey confirmed yesterday that it employed about 70 people at Hydro Kurri.

A spokesman for the company said Thomas and Coffey was reviewing its contract with Hydro and the implications the plant's situation would have on the subcontractors at the plant.

Hydro Kurri's Vice President HR and Organisation Trevor Hall said the matter of contractors had to be taken up with Thomas and Coffey.

He believed Thomas and Coffey management had notified its workforce of Hydro's decision but did not think the decision to close Potline 1 would affect all its subcontractors.

Tomago Aluminium did not return The Herald's calls for comment yesterday.

Darrell Hannan of Weston is employed as a casual for Thomas and Coffey and was expecting a phone call any day to tell him to collect his tools from the Kurri plant.

Mr Hannan, 63, worked at the smelter between 1969 and 1980 before spending 22 years in the mines. He has been working for Thomas and Coffey for nine years.

"I understand there will be no rebuilds at Hydro so I'd say it's early retirement for me," Mr Hannan said.

"We're pretty much in the dark but we have been hearing things for a while now and I understand that Thomas and Coffey had about another five or six months left on their contract."

He said the writing was on the wall for contractors.

"I've got no idea what I will do now because I'm too old to move into another job."

Mr Hannan said it would have been nice to get a government handout like Ford this week but said realistically it would not help the industry.

Stephen Hughes, 50, has worked at the Kurri smelter for 31 years and is worried about his future.

The father of two and grandfather of three still has one child at home and wife Lois works part-time.

He said a government handout would not "change the situation".

Mr Hughes, a potline operator, does not want a redundancy package.

"I am worried and I thought I would see out retirement here," he said.

"It's really 10 years too early for me."

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