The malaise of the nickel industry weighs on the institutional future of the territory

The Société Le Nickel (SLN) factory in Nouméa, New Caledonia, on November 23, 2021.

At the foot of the ” old lady “, nickname of the metallurgical plant which, for a hundred years, has been transforming nickel ore at the entrance to Nouméa, the faces of the dozens of employees mobilized since dawn on Monday morning are closed. The one they are waiting for is none other than Christel Bories, CEO of Eramet, main shareholder of Société Le Nickel (SLN), New Caledonia’s leading private employer.

Upon her arrival at the factory, Christel Bories, who came to chair a board of directors on Thursday, November 17, could only confirm the importance of her visit to the unions: “I too am worried, I came to see what the solutions are and they are urgent, because the situation is serious”she said during an informal meeting with the employees.

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Expected on November 28 in Nouméa for a series of discussions on the future of New Caledonia, the Minister of the Interior and Overseas, Gérald Darmanin, will have to look into the thorny issue, vital for the economy. of the territory. On Friday, the company announced that it had requested its placement under ad hoc mandate, in order to renegotiate its debts with its creditors. For the eleventh consecutive year, SLN will end in the red, with production of less than 40,000 tonnes and exports of raw ore less than half of its capacity. The coffers are empty, and the last installment of a loan of 530 million euros, including 200 million granted by the State, contracted in 2016, was released in September to deal with the lack of cash.

No “nickel boom”

The failure is obvious. However, the mining and metallurgy sector supports fifteen thousand people in the archipelago of two hundred and seventy thousand inhabitants. While New Caledonia, over-indebted since the crisis linked to Covid-19, is now facing the energy crisis, a failure of one of the three industrialists would de facto lead to the bankruptcy of Cafat, the local social security body. , who would be unable to pay social benefits.

No metallurgical plant is taking advantage of the current rush for nickel, extremely coveted since it enters the production of electric car batteries. Fifth largest producer in the world, New Caledonia is, unlike Indonesia, for example, far from experiencing a new “nickel boom”as the territory calls the golden age of the 1960s, when steel fever brought workers and investors to the Caillou.

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