28 Feb 2019

New Caledonian union agrees for SLN workers to return

4:52 pm on 28 February 2019

One of the two unions in New Caledonia on strike at the SLN nickel company since the beginning of the year has agreed to resume work.

The USTKE union signed a deal suspending its action which has affected three of the company's four mines that supply ore to the smelter in Noumea.

Members of the CSTNC union remain on strike.

SLN smelter in Noumea New Caledonia

SLN smelter in Noumea New Caledonia Photo: RNZ Walter Zweifel

The unions want SLN to rescind its restructure of the working week, which calls for more hours on working days but fewer days of work to increase productivity.

The changes had been agreed to by the unions' umbrella organisations but are being rejected by the workers at the mine, with some saying they won't work on Sundays.

Ore stocks at the smelter in Noumea were reported to have shrunk and forced the plant to cut nickel production.

With 2,000 staff, SLN is New Caledonia's biggest private sector employer, but in the past six years it has run up losses of $US1 billion.

Close to bankruptcy in 2016, the French state and SLN's parent company Eramet advanced almost $US600 million to keep SLN going.

At the current rate of incurring losses, the loans are expected to be depleted by the end of this year.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs