Sacked Kawerau mill workers look to Australia

By Katee Shanks

Some Norske Skog Tasman mill workers facing redundancy after yesterday's permanent closure of the number two paper machine will be moving their families to Australia.

Manufacturing and Construction Workers Union senior site delegate Tane Phillips said now was a sensitive time for the 110 workers who have lost their jobs after  the closure.

In a statement, the mill's general manager Peter McCarty said the number two paper machine would close per manently as of yesterday and the 110 redundancies would take place over the next three to four months.

"Last September we announced our decision to close a machine,'' Mr McCarty said.

"Over the past four months we have worked closely with employees, unions and other stakeholders on the detailed closure arrangements, including a mill-wide restructuring programme.''

Through these discussions, Norske Skog Tasman was able to reduce the final number of redundancies from an originally estimated 130 to 110.

Mr Phillips said he had spoken to many of the workers losing their jobs.

"Nobody's coming and telling me they are scared about what the future holds, they won't do that,'' Mr Phillips said.

"But I know many will be.''

He said for several of the men in the 50- to 55-year-old bracket, further jobs would be hard to find.

"Realistically, the chances of finding another job in Kawerau are not good,'' Mr Phillips said.

"I have been told by more than one of the workers, they will be looking for employment in Australia.''

According to a former mill worker, who did not want to be named, some of the staff had been able to secure work on the number three machine but there would still be forced redundancies with the closure.

The number three machine, which has been operational for more than 50 years, will continue to produce newsprint predominantly for the New Zealand and Australian markets.

Mr McCarty said the decision to close the machine, as was widely understood, had been brought about by global market forces within the industry.

"The challenge for our mill and our remaining machine is to be a low-cost producer of quality newsprint and we are well positioned to meet this challenge.

"We will also be looking to successfully leverage off this base to seize new opportunities that will invariably come along in the future.''

Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell said he was disappointed about the job losses.

"The Government needs to move quickly to protect increasingly fragile local economies, not just for the benefit of local whanau and businesses, but for New Zealand as a whole. The downsizing of industries like this mill in Kawerau could unravel the closeness of heartland New Zealand and of iwi and hapu still living within our own tribal territories. These people may soon have no choice but to find jobs and decent wages further afield from their papakainga (original home).

"From its peak a few years ago of employing 2000 people, the plant now has less than 200 staff. This makes for tough times not just in Kawerau but for the whole Eastern Bay of Plenty region. The flow-on effect of the machine closure in Kawerau will mean less demand for wood products from forestry companies close by, inevitably leading to more job losses in the industry,'' Mr Flavell said.

Norske Skog has the widest geographical spread of all the paper producers, with mills in 11 countries.


- Rotorua Daily Post

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