New hope for future of Whakatane mill

Labour MPs Tamati Coffey and Kiri Allan held meetings with workers and others in March to see if the 80-year-old Whakātane mill and its 210 jobs could be saved. Supplied photo.

A prospective buyer has appeared for the Whakatane Mill.

The mill confirmed last month that it would close at the end of June, putting 210 employees out of work, because its Swiss owner SIG Combibloc had not been able to find a buyer.

But now SIG, which reportedly had the mill on the market for two years, says it has received an expression of interest from a buyer.

A spokesperson says there is little to report. "Discussions are still at an early stage."

It is one of Whakatane's largest private employers and many of the workers are second or third generation workers.

However, SIG warned that closure is still "a very real prospect, and steps to work through the wind-down process will continue unless a binding deal is reached".

Acknowledging the uncertainty the workers were facing, the company said it had put in place "numerous measures" including HR and employee assistance programme services.

All mill staff, unions and other necessary stakeholders were being kept informed, SIG says.

If the closure does go ahead, the mill will cease production on June 21, and then begin decommissioning the plant, with an expected final closure date of June 30.

First Union spokesman Jared Abbott says workers are being cautious about the news, as many had already made plans.

“It’s obviously a really positive step but there's a range of different circumstances with the workers there. Some people have already got other work lined up, some people probably expected to take the redundancy payment and retire, and some people will be extremely glad that there will be ongoing work there.”

First and E tū, the other union representing the mill workers, have consistently argued that a new buyer could repurpose the existing plant, to keep the mill manufacturing pulp and paper products.

-Stuff/Catherine Harris.

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