Category: Engineering, Infrastructure, and Extractions

Whakatāne Mill confirms closure but opportunities remain

The closure of Whakatāne Mill has been confirmed, with over 150 skilled operational workers being made redundant after 85 years of operations.

FIRST Union and E tū say that while vital the impact on the local community will be significant, there is still a chance for a new buyer to repurpose the existing plant and secure crucial infrastructure in New Zealand’s forestry supply chain.

“There are many options for refitting the existing assets to continue manufacturing pulp and paper products,” said Jared Abbott, FIRST Union Secretary for Transport, Logistics and Finance.

“We are inviting potential buyers to ask for our assistance to get the support needed to make the most of the existing skills and infrastructure available.

“There are opportunities in the industry and there is an important role for Government to play in securing the wood supply chain and increasing our manufacturing capacity.”

E tū spokesperson Raymond Wheeler says the announcement of the closure is “devastating” for local industry, including businesses such as scaffolding and engineering.

“We’ve just had the economic impact of the Whakaari (White Island) eruption and COVID-19 on Whakatāne’s tourism industry to contend with, and now the region has been dealt this blow. It’s an enormous hit to the regions and to the eastern Bay of Plenty.”

Raymond says job opportunities in the area are limited, and emphasises the urgency around the Government’s work on an Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) for the forestry and wood processing sector, if local manufacturing is to survive.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Jared Abbott, 021 617 131

Raymond Wheeler, 027 597 5404

Smelter extension brings certainty to Tiwai workers and community

Tiwai workers and the Southland community will now have time to plan a proper transition with the future of the Rio Tinto smelter secured for the next four years.

On January 14, it was announced that the smelter’s owner, Rio Tinto, has signed a contract with electricity provider Meridian Energy to keep the operation open until the end of 2024.

Originally, the company had proposed to close the smelter at the end of its contract in August, potentially impacting around 1000 workers and putting many local businesses and suppliers at risk.

Delegate Owen Evans says the majority of Tiwai workers are “quite happy with the decision” about the contract extension.

“For those with big mortgages and families, it’s been a relief for them. For younger ones, it removes the panic of having to search for a job immediately,” he says.

“Workers can stay at Tiwai in the interim and have the time to upskill to other roles they may want to do in future.”

The announcement is positive for many others in the community too, Owen says.

“A lot of people – for example, those in operations, suppliers, or food places – also rely on Tiwai.”

Owen says since the closure was first proposed, it’s been a struggle to attract new workers, with many leaving the company.

He says he hopes that will change thanks to the certainty the new contract provides.

Joe Gallagher, a negotiation specialist at E tū, says the news is a “win” for workers, the union and the community to enable a ‘Just Transition’.

“Four years gives everyone a lot of time to make choices about the future – whether that’s training, looking at different industries.

“Now people have a chance to put together a plan. It’s an opportunity for all parties, including the union, to put a frame around how things will look in 2024 and beyond.”

Since the proposed closure was announced last year, E tū has called on the company and the Government for a Just Transition to make sure the impact of switching to low-carbon or alternative industries doesn’t fall disproportionately on workers and their communities.

Joe says now there’s a new opportunity to set an example of a Just Transition model.

“We can make it the gold standard for what might help other communities to deal with this same question,” he says.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Joe Gallagher, 027 591 0015

Proposed job cuts risk to workers and community, union says

E tū is calling on the country’s only oil refinery to rethink their proposal to cut jobs from their maintenance and emergency teams.

Around 100 workers in total, including those from maintenance, instrument technician, electrical, and emergency services teams could go at Refining New Zealand in Marsden Point, as part of a proposal given to workers on 6 October.

The possible cuts include around a quarter of the small essential maintenance team and almost 50% of the refinery’s emergency services team, which E tū says will increase the risk to workers and the surrounding community alike.

A worker, who remains anonymous, says safety is a big concern.

“The company don’t seem to realise or care how unsafe [things are] becoming because of a lack of maintenance. The reductions in numbers will make it worse.”

E tū organiser Annie Tothill says there is no evidence so far to show that maintenance work has reduced and getting rid of workers will simply place more pressure on those who remain.

“There is a gaping hole for risks if you reduce these already-small teams, as workers may suffer fatigue due to excessive hours and increased stress levels,” she says.

“The proposal to cut the emergency services team to only one worker per shift is also deeply concerning, as it means they would be mostly working alone, including on a night shift.

“This group not only provides assistance at the refinery but is also a recognised local industrial brigade in the region, and trains volunteers and other Fire Emergency personnel from around New Zealand.”

 Annie says the refinery is classed as a top-tier high-hazard facility, and so the company must consult with the community and regional council on proposed changes around health and safety, including emergency functions.

“They have so far provided no evidence or modelling to support their proposal and have no plan to consult with communities yet.

“As long as the refinery continues to operate, we need to continue to invest in the community to ensure decent, safe working conditions, and a top-tier community and national resource, while also considering any future ‘Just Transition’ plan for this group of highly skilled workers.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Tothill, 027 573 4934

E tū welcomes commitment to ‘Just Transition’ for Tiwai workers

E tū says Labour’s just transition approach will give workers and communities in Southland confidence to plan for a future with good jobs to replace those at the Tiwai Point smelter.

On Monday, the Labour Party announced its commitment to keeping the smelter open for an additional three to five years, rather than see it close in 2021 as proposed by Rio Tinto.

The extension will give the community and local leaders more time to develop a transition plan for Southland.

Tiwai delegate Owen Evans says the proposal to transition to other jobs and industries over a longer period “gives people options”.

“To get the three- to five-year extension is better for the majority. It means that a lot of young ones with big mortgages don’t have to quit straight away, and they can upskill while they’re still working.”

The transition would also allow for possible recovery of the aluminium market post-COVID-19, he says.

E tū Negotiation Specialist Joe Gallagher says the union supports Labour’s plan to give workers and the community more time to prepare.

“The proposed closure of Tiwai, which is due to take place in August next year, leaves little time to design and roll out new economic activity to replace jobs at the smelter,” he says.

“We’re very much in favour of a plan that will enable the development of a Just Transition for workers.”

Joe says the premise of a Just Transition is simple – it means the costs of the big structural change, such as a shift to low-carbon economy, must be spread evenly and not fall heavily and disproportionately on workers.

However, unions need to be part of the transition conversation too, Joe says.

“Just Transition is a trade union concept developed and used in many countries, including most recently in New Zealand in Taranaki. 

“E tū has been active in driving Taranaki’s transition and any just transition process needs to have active involvement from workers and their unions.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Joe Gallagher, 027 591 0015
Alan Clarence, 027 548 2434

Proposed redundancies at NZ Steel will harm local and national economy, union says

Buying local and supporting local businesses is more important than ever, E tū says, in the wake of up to 200 redundancies proposed by BlueScope Steel.

On Thursday, the Australian-owned company who has New Zealand’s NZ Steel in Glenbrook and Pacific Steel in Otahuhu, announced its proposal to make between 150 to 200 workers redundant.

BlueScope aims to cut up to around NZ$54 million in costs, after their A$5.8 million full-year operating loss. However, they have now ruled out the closure of either Kiwi plant.

E tū member Lance Gush says members have a good collective agreement with strong terms and conditions to deal with the consultation process.

“Now it’s about maintaining what we can, working through the process to consult with the company, and minimising the impact on workers to get an outcome that’s good for everyone.

“We understand role we play in the structure of the local community and groups. We understand the business also needs to make a profit. We all want to be part of a successful business – it’s about how we do that together for the future.”

E tū negotiation specialist Joe Gallagher says the consultation process will take around seven weeks, as the collective agreement means the company is required to go through an “extensive” process with members around redundancy.

“We’re arguing the company needs to maintain workers’ incomes, their hours of work, and by any means necessary, to minimise job losses.”

While it’s some comfort that complete closure is off the cards, there is a ‘supply chain effect’ when people lose their jobs, which will not only harm the economy but many New Zealand communities, Joe says.

“For every $100 it takes to make to steel, $80 goes back into our economy – that’s a huge amount, compared to the $5 return from imported steel.

“Any redundancies will have a supply chain effect which will impact many industries, including manufacturing and construction. We’ve got to support local as well – that means cafes, gyms, and other small businesses – this is what keeps our communities alive,” Joe says.

“We have to do whatever it takes to keep local businesses going – big and small – and support each other to get through this.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Joe Gallagher, 027 591 0015

‘Significant redundancies’ proposed and possible mill closure for steel workers

Keeping local jobs as part of the New Zealand construction industry supply chain is essential, E tū union says, after the announcement of proposed redundancies by BlueScope Steel.

On Monday, the Australian-owned company warned of its plans to lay off “a substantial number” of staff as it reduces the scale of its New Zealand sites in Otahuhu and Glenbrook.

It reported a full-year operating loss of A$5.8 million for its operations in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and has not ruled out complete closure of its Glenbrook mill.

E tū member Lance Gush, who works at New Zealand Steel’s Glenbrook mill, says while the extent of the redundancies isn’t yet known, the situation was causing anxiety for workers.

“We’ve seen press releases in Australian papers talking about mass redundancies, and it’s very concerning. The lack of information makes that worse,” he says.

“Obviously, this business is an extremely important landmark in the Glenbrook community and surrounding communities. Any layoffs would have a huge impact on the area.”

Lance says other redundancies, including voluntary redundancy and redeployment of workers, affecting up to 60 staff at Glenbrook were only formally confirmed on Friday last week.

E tū negotiation specialist Joe Gallagher says while the union acknowledges the “significant headwinds” faced by the company, such as power, carbon emissions and the competitive prices of imported steel, keeping local jobs was essential.

“Glenbrook is the only mill in the country that produces steel, and it’s really valuable to our economy. This business contributes to 1% of our GDP, with a direct benefit to the community of more than $135 million per year,” Joe says.

“One in four workers in the Glenbrook community are employed at the mill, and we’d like to see a guarantee from the Government that will ensure local procurement.”

Joe says retaining steel production onshore will keep the New Zealand construction industry strong and keep valuable production lines open, rather than relying exclusively on imported steel.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Joe Gallagher, 027 591 0015

Union calls for Just Transition for workers as smelter to close

E tū union is calling for a ‘Just Transition’ for workers in the wake of Rio Tinto’s announcement it will be closing its smelter at Tiwai Point.

Around 1000 workers directly employed by the smelter will be affected, as well as at least a further estimated 1600 workers in the supply chain and local businesses.

Rio Tinto has given notice to terminate its contract with electricity supplier Meridian Energy, which ends in August 2021.

E tū Negotiation Specialist Joe Gallagher says the knock-on effect of the closure will be “huge”.

“This is a significant employer and this company is at the heart of its community. A closure will affect the entire supply chain, including other local suppliers,” he says.

“The smelter produces high grade aluminium and quality jobs for New Zealanders. It doesn’t make sense that as soon as it can’t get energy any cheaper, it abdicates responsibility for its workers.”

Rio Tinto needs to think about the legacy it wants to leave as a company, Joe says.

“To be clear, the closure will have an effect on the whole of Southland.”

Joe says the Government needs to consider a similar approach to that used in Taranaki with the Taranaki 2050 Roadmap, to ensure a Just Transition takes place.

“The Government should use the expertise, knowledge, and methodology that the Taranaki 2050 Roadmap partners have built in the region, but developing it at a much quicker pace for Southland with substantial investment early on.

“It has the opportunity post-COVID-19 to show a pathway forward for a proper, fair and just transition, including enabling workers to retrain or redeploy, while involving them, their communities, and iwi to rebuild better in the region.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Joe Gallagher, 027 591 0015

‘Brutal’ proposed job cuts at Carter Holt Harvey

Workers are devastated at a restructure proposal which could see more than two-thirds of their team made redundant at Carter Holt Harvey’s remaining Northland timber plant.

In May, the company proposed to cut 68% of its production roles from 241 down to just 77 at their Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) plant at Marsden Point, as part of a plan to abandon export sales and focus on domestic supply only.

Despite LVL receiving around $2.2 million in wage subsidies in the first week of April, workers were forced to use, on average, two weeks of their annual leave during the Level 4 lockdown.

Some workers, who had little or no leave, now face a zero or negative leave balance and redundancy. The company also confirmed it has not ruled out complete closure of the plant.

E tū Industry Councillor Glen Chaplin visited Carter Holt Harvey workers last week and says they are completely demoralised by the proposed redundancy.

“Workers are really devastated and deflated. They don’t know what to do next and don’t necessarily see a path forward for getting other work,” Glen says.

“It’s decision which would potentially leave two-thirds of their workforce out of jobs in an area that’s already economically depressed.”

E tū organiser Annie Tothill says the timing of the proposed cuts is “brutal”.

“The harvesting of workers’ leave means some workers will have nothing left of their leave balance to help support a period of redundancy.

“It is in everyone’s best interest that the wage subsidy is used as intended – for the workers – and we urge Carter Holt Harvey to use the 12-week subsidy to cover the cost of reinstating all that leave to all their workers now.”

Annie says with a number of employers in manufacturing and infrastructure issuing restructure notices with potential redundancies, the Government needs to step in quickly for communities to have justice and to prevent a self-fulfilling cycle of job loss and economic downturn.

It also needs to create an accountable pathway for the timber manufacturing industry to thrive again, including exports, Annie says.

“To rebuild better, we need to keep and increase the number of decent jobs in New Zealand. The jobs at Carter Holt Harvey are good, sustainable manufacturing jobs that provide for hundreds of workers and their families, indeed the whole community.”

The company will announce their decision on 8 June.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Tothill 027 573 4934

Salaries still slashed as Fletchers proposes to axe up to 1000 Kiwi jobs

Up to 1000 workers at Fletchers are facing possible redundancy, after having already been on reduced pay during lockdown.

Since early April, workers have been on a 12-week pay reduction plan, which saw them receiving less than their normal weekly income – a change over which they say they were not properly consulted.

E tū understands employees now back at work are on reduced days and hours.

To add insult to injury, Fletchers has now announced a proposal to cull up to 1000 New Zealand workers, about 10% of their workforce.

Fletchers received almost $68 million from the Government’s wage subsidy scheme.

E tū Negotiation Specialist Joe Gallagher says to rebuild better, New Zealand needs to keep and create decent jobs.

“This means secure employment especially for the critical infrastructure workers we desperately need to recover our economy.”

E tū’s representative for engineering and infrastructure on the National Executive, Bruce Habgood, says the rebuild needs to be about people over profits.

“We’re calling on the Government to step in and ensure we keep Kiwi jobs in New Zealand.

“It’s about allowing the economy to recover justly,” Bruce says.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Joe Gallagher 027 591 0015