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Workers at three older Quebec aluminum plants are nervous that the axe will fall on them as Rio Tinto Alcan looks to trim costs.

Union leaders say the company signalled with Tuesday's announced closure of its Beauharnois smelter that it is willing to use the industry's catastrophic downturn to bypass a continuity agreement with the Quebec government.

The deal gave Alcan access to cheap hydroelectricity in exchange for a guarantee to keep the facilities open for several years.

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But the dramatic drop in the price of aluminum has allowed the company to escape that commitment and lay off 300 people as part of a global effort to cut production by another six per cent.

Smelters in Shawinigan, Arvidar and Jonquiere had guarantees to operate for several years.

Alain Gagnon, president of the Syndicat National des Employes de l'Aluminium d'Arvida, said that while the company is justified in reducing costs, it shouldn't proceed with massive cuts and additional plant closures.

Further production cuts should be spread across all facilities, as it has been done previously, rather than focusing only on specific locations, he said.

Louis-Gerard Dallaire, local president of the union in Shawinigan, said he hopes a company restructuring plan to be presented next week won't signal the smelter's closing.

He said the union will do everything to keep the plant open, but declined to specify steps ahead of seeing the plan.

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