Guinea union wants Russian mine contract terminated
Guinean unions want the government to cancel Russian aluminium giant Rusal's ownership of the Friguia refinery, which has been shut for nearly five months over a pay dispute, an official said Friday.
Mamadou Alpha Barry of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG) said his group and several others had collectively asked the prime minister to void the contract.
“For five months, the factory has not operated, everything is closed,” Barry said.
“It is … Africa’s first aluminium refinery, a national pride. So we don’t want the pride of Guinean industry to die.”
Rusal has managed the bauxite mine and aluminium refinery in the town of Fria, 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Conakry, since 2002 and in 2006 privatised it for $19 million (15 million euros) under late dictator Lansana Conte’s rule.
The union said that the sale of the plant at this “despicable price” was the reason they had urged the state to terminate the contract.
Rusal’s presence at the mine has been fraught with pay disputes and tension in the west African nation, which is the world’s biggest producer of bauxite — used to produce aluminium — but has been dogged by political instability.
Recent troubles erupted on April 4 when employees of the refinery went on strike for higher pay.
A Conakry court declared the strike illegal, but unions rejected the decision and refused to return to work.
The Russian owners left after unionists occupied the refinery, according to the company, as well as Russian government statements.
“The subsequent occupation of the plant and forcible removal of the plant’s owners from its management have led to substantial violations of the technological process,” a spokeswoman from Rusal in Moscow told AFP.
She said the halt in production and threat to the supply of water and electricity had put the town “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.”
The spokeswoman said the union’s demand had no legal ground. Rusal is demanding full compliance with the April 18 court decision.
“Rusal has been and remains a rightful owner of the Friguia bauxite and alumina complex and will protect its ownership rights by all legal means around the world,” the spokeswoman said.
“We hope that the government of the Republic of Guinea will act in accordance with the laws of Guinea and international law.”
Some 3,000 residents are employed by the factory, which was built in 1960, and the town depends on it for water and electricity.
On Monday Fria’s mayor met with Employment Minister Fatoumata Tounkara, urging her to “do everything so that work starts again at Fria at all costs without condition”, a source close to the minister told AFP.
“If the factory dies, the Russians will go back home and the Guineans will stay here crying.”