Guinea town paralysed as pay strike shuts aluminium plant

guinea drums
Cogeneration station of the "FRIA" aluminous plant (Republic of Guinea)

"We're living through the end of Guinea's most famous mine," said trade union activist Mamadi Kourouma in the town of Fria, 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Conakry and home to Africa's first aluminium refinery.

 

Owned by the world's biggest aluminium producer Rusal, the Friguia plant ground to a halt in April after a lengthy pay dispute, leaving residents in despair and Russian management and Moscow bemoaning a "human catastrophe."

 

Weeds stand high around the desolate town, which paces itself according to the rhythm of power cuts. "Fria is dependent on the factory for water and electricity. The same goes for the

shops, the banks and administrative offices," said Kourouma.

 

"There is no state sector here. Fria and the workers will not get over this crisis. It's been a real earthquake," Kourouma said. "We're now compelled to ration electricity," said the deputy director of Friguia, David Camara.

 

Trouble erupted on April 4 when Friguia workers went on strike for higher pay. A Conakry court declared the strike illegal, but unions refused to return to work.

 

By the time workers agreed to take up tools again, the Russian managers had left after the refinery was occupied by unionists, a spokeswoman from Rusal told AFP from Moscow on condition of anonymity.

 

"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," the spokeswoman said. She added that 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 Russian government even spoke out about the situation in April, saying in a statement that Rusal had "practically found itself invaded by extremist syndicalists."

 

"The security of the Russian employees was endangered," read a Russian foreign ministry statement adding that plant supplies had been "plundered".

 

Rusal has managed the bauxite mine, aluminium refinery and railway network since 2002 and privatised it in 2006, but its presence has been fraught with pay disputes and strikes.

Guinea is the world's leading producer of bauxite, from which aluminium is extracted. On Friday, Guinean unions asked the government to cancel Rusal's contract, a demand the company said had "no legal grounds", vowing to use all legal means to protect its ownership rights.

 

"It is because the plant was sold off for a despicable price by the regime of former president Lansana Conte for $19 million (15 million euro) that we are asking the state to take responsibility and terminate the sale contract," said Mamadou Mansare, secretary general of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG).

 

The complex employs about 3,200 people, and produces 2.1 million tonnes of bauxite and 618,000 tonnes of alumina a year, according to the company's website.

 

While Guinea possesses vast mineral wealth, most of its population remains impoverished after decades of political mismanagement and instability since independence from France in 1958.

 

The country held its first ever democratic election in 2010 and President Alpha Conde has since overseen the adoption of a new mining code to improve management of its resources.

As the dispute drags on however, Fria has begun to resemble a ghost town.

 

At its height, in the 1960s and 1970s, the boom town boasted an olympic swimming pool, night clubs and spacious and well-lit residential districts. Its refinery was the pride of the country's mining industry.

 

Fria "is in danger of disappearing if the factory stops. Nobody ignores the fact that the plant gave birth (to the town)," its mayor Amara Traore warned.

 

"Today I've got a starving population. People are selling their property, their homes, plots of land and even furniture to survive."

 

On Monday Traore met with Employment Minister Fatoumata Tounkara, urging her to ensure that work resumes at Fria, a source close to the minister told AFP.

 

"If the factory dies, the Russians will go home and the Guineans will remain here crying," the source said.

 

© ANP/AFP

 

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    YUSUF BANGURA (Saturday, 05 September 2015 11:44)

    Fria becoming a ghostly town today is readly brings crisis, which may lead the people to bad thinking, such as criminality, because thousand was depending on fria and today fria is close how you think they will survive whilst there is not enough employment in the country. Today the leaders has misused the company and allow the innocent to suffer. Please let the president Alpha Conde do something about those who sold the country and allow we the poor people to survive.