Rotorua saw mill told to front up

By Matthew Martin

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WHAT'S THE STORY?: E Tu union lead organiser for Taranaki, Waikato and Bay of Plenty, Raymond Wheeler has sent Pedersen Group a letter asking it to explain the situation.PHOTO/ANDREW WARNER
WHAT'S THE STORY?: E Tu union lead organiser for Taranaki, Waikato and Bay of Plenty, Raymond Wheeler has sent Pedersen Group a letter asking it to explain the situation.PHOTO/ANDREW WARNER

The union representing about a quarter of the workers at the Lumbercube mill is asking for a "please explain" from the mill's owners while the forestry sector remains tight-lipped about the closure.

In a shock move E Tu union lead organiser for Taranaki, Waikato and Bay of Plenty, Raymond Wheeler, who represents about 20 mill workers, said he had sent Pedersen Group a letter asking it to explain the situation.

He said he was not pleased with what, in his opinion, was a lack of consultation with workers and it seemed the company had already decided to close the mill for good.

The mill company had "gone missing" and the union would be seeking legal advice under the Employment Relations Act.

"Employees who have worked tirelessly and have put a lot of energy in the previous 12 months for this employer deserve and are entitled to be given a full and honest account of why [the company] has made this startling decision," Mr Wheeler said.

But late Friday afternoon, Mr Wheeler said Lumbercube had called and asked him to attend a meeting on Monday.

Lumbercube management, when approached by the Rotorua Daily Post, said it would not comment further about the process and referred to an earlier press release that said the mill was closed "due to challenges in becoming commercially operational".

"There were a number of commercial and operating factors that could not be resolved in a timely manner.

"The Lumbercube team have made an incredible effort to make this unique mill work but unfortunately were unable to do so in a timely manner, despite looking at every option.

"We are now focused on doing everything we can to support our staff over the coming weeks and to honour all obligations to our suppliers and customers."

Management had begun a "managed wind-down plan" at the site and consultation had begun with its Rotorua workforce.

The Rotorua Daily Post asked Lumbercube management what the process would be regarding compensation of its workers.

It said the workers' consultation period "runs through to close of business next Tuesday".

"The mill has ceased operations and no other details will be available at this time."

Lumbercube did not respond to questions asking if the mill or any of its equipment would be sold or what would happen to the logs left at the site.

Trucking firms TD Haulage and Rotorua Forest Haulage did not want to comment about the closure. A number of other forestry industry officials and businesses in Rotorua and Tokoroa also declined to comment while workers also chose not to speak publicly.

An email to members of the Eastside Residents Association said the group's Facebook page - Eastside Residents Action Group - had been taken down temporarily. The group was set up to combat noise issues from the mill that had triggered more than 3400 noise complaints since it opened in September last year.

"This decision has come as a shock to us all, and we are saddened that Lumbercube was unable to overcome their commercial and operational challenges," the email read. "In the interim, the Facebook page has been taken down temporarily out of respect for those affected by the closure of the mill.

"There is still work to be done, questions to be answered of Rotorua Lakes Council, and time for reflection by the eastside community on the whole issue.

"We thank you all for remaining professional and respectful during this time, and for your continued support."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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