“Mediation between the parties resumed on Friday, June 4 and continued through Monday, June 7, 2010. Progress was made. However, the period of time set aside to complete the task of negotiating a renewal collective agreement was insufficient,” he said.

“Accordingly, I am adjourning this mediation to Saturday, June 19, 2010. The parties have agreed to continue two party negotiations on certain issues in the interim."

The dispute has more or less shut down the Sudbury, Ontario, production operation. Vale Inco supplies 80% to 90% of the 25 000 – 30 000-ton annual nickel powder market, but the company is struggling to keep up with demand from its customers, even after resuming output at its refinery in Clydach, Wales, and ramping up production of powder and pellets there.

The Welsh unit has been at full stretch making powder for the last three months.  It was shut for three months when feed from Sudbury  stopped due to the strike, although output resumed late last year when some material from Vale's Sorowako operations in Indonesia was redirected from its Japanese refinery. Clydach is also thought to have been receiving feed from Sudbury since March this year after some mining resumed using non-striking union workers and third-party contractors. Other producers, such as Russia’s MMC Norilsk Nickel, do not have the capacity to fill the vacuum.

The PM industry in North America has been hard hit by the dispute as suddenly increased demand from the automotive industry caught some powder makers and part suppliers inventory-light. The Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF) has already formally expressed its concerns to Vale Inco, and “going public” in American Metal Market, CEO Jim Trombino said: “We are, finally, after years of being down, starting to get on our feet and this hits us. Not having enough nickel powder is really creating some issues throughout the supply chain.”

  • Vale Inco has sold Novamet Specialty Products Corporation, based in Wyckoff, New Jersey, to Palm Novamet Holdings, LLC, an affiliate of Palm International, Inc, of LaVergne, Tennessee. Novamet produces tightly sized nickel powders, metallic flake, coated materials, and specialty nickel oxide, and distributes Vale’s nickel powders and oxides in the United States. Originally launched in 1980 from products developed at Inco’s former Sterling Forest research laboratory in Suffern, New York, Novamet operates from a 30 000 sq ft plant with about 17 employees. Palm International, a major manufacturer of nickel and rare-earth chemicals, is currently Vale’s distributor for plating nickel products in the US.  Vale reports it will continue supplying Novamet with nickel products from its nickel refineries in Sudbury, Canada, and Clydach, Wales, under a long-term contract. It will continue toll-processing nickel-coated graphite for Novamet until December 31, 2011.