Yarwun breaks production record in tough times

LOOMING job cuts might be hanging over the heads of Rio Tinto Yarwun workers but that hasn't stopped them from breaking the refinery's production records.

In the first quarter this year the refinery increased production by 15% at a time when Rio Tinto needed to up production to make up for a dropping alumina price.

During this period, workers witnessed job cuts at Rio Tinto's Queensland Alumina Limited refinery and despite the two businesses operating in isolation, consultants were also called in for an operational review at Yarwun.

Photo Luka Kauzlaric / The Observer
Photo Luka Kauzlaric / The Observer Luka Kauzlaric

The work and efficiency of the plant this quarter was noticed by Rio Tinto's chief executive officer Sam Walsh.

He singled out aluminium as a strong performer in Rio Tinto's overall positive quarterly report released on Tuesday night.

That improvement was mostly off the back of Yarwun which improved its production from 683,000 tonnes this quarter last year to 785,000 tonnes.

The increase made the first quarter of this year the best production quarter in the refinery's history.

It even drove up the overall alumina production for Rio Tinto to a 7% increase.

QAL also performed considering the recent job losses of both operational and non-operational staff.

It produced 742,000 tonnes in the quarter which was up 3000 tonnes from this time last year and down 10,000 tonnes from the December.

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Workers at the Yarwun refinery have been able to do this while they wait for an operational review to be completed that could well see job losses on the table.

The push was needed with Rio Tinto announcing in December the two Gladstone alumina refineries were losing money due to low returns because of the aluminium price.

The increase in production at Yarwun has come as the aluminium price has continued to fall from about US$1800 a tonne this time last year to US$1500 a tonne.

In Rio Tinto's quarterly production report released on Tuesday, chief executive officer Sam Walsh highlighted the strong performance of its aluminium businesses in driving efficiencies.

"However, we continue to experience volatility in commodity prices across all markets," he said.

Across the alumina business which includes Yarwun and Queensland Alumina Limited, production increased by 7% compared with the first quarter of last year.

"This solid performance was mainly driven by Yarwun, where first quarter production of 785,000t was 15% higher than the first quarter of 2015, setting a new quarterly record," the report read.

"It also reflected the ongoing focus on productivity improvements across all refineries, which continues to be the strategy for the division."

Queensland Alumina Limited, which has make job losses in recent months following its operational review, increased its production by 3000t compared to the first quarter last year and down 10,000t from the December quarter last year.

TIMELINE | From QAL and Yarwun redundancies to contractor pay delays

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