Category: Engineering, Infrastructure, and Extractions

‘Just Transition’ plan essential as refinery closure vote passes

E tū strongly advocates for a Just Transition in the face of a shareholder vote in favour of closing the oil refinery to create an import-only terminal at Marsden Point.

Around 300 workers who are directly employed and several hundred contractors will likely lose their jobs or be affected when their workforce is downsized to just 60 workers, when the refinery becomes a storage facility for imported refined oil.

E tū organiser Annie Tothill says the situation at Marsden Point is similar to Taranaki and Tiwai and a Just Transition proposition is needed in this region.

“The vote by shareholders to close the refinery comes as a blow for a region where unemployment is already high. There’s also the flow-on effect to other local businesses and contractors, which will be significant.

“Marsden Point is facing the same issue as other towns built around manufacturing hubs, and there needs to be a plan to deal with any kind of transition,” she says.

Annie says the carbon footprint of importing refined oil, as well as the impact that closure will have on the country’s fuel security, are also important aspects to consider.

“If we are serious about securing a future for workers and our transition to a carbon-neutral society, then we absolutely need a Just Transition plan for Northland.

“It would require a commitment from shareholders, local and central Government to that transition plan, to manufacture alternative energies with a lower carbon footprint.”

Annie says local Government will also need to review the current resource consent as part of any future Just Transition proposal.

“The resource consent granted to Refining NZ in 2020 for a further 35 years does not seem to be in keeping with the goal of a carbon-neutral society.”

A final decision about the closure will be made by the board in September.

ENDS

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

‘Sense of mourning’ as Norske Skog mill set to close

Workers at Norske Skog’s Tasman Mill now know they’ll be losing their jobs in little over a month’s time.

On Wednesday afternoon, workers were told the mill will be stopping production from the end of June, with most taking redundancy from 16 July once a clean-up has been completed at the site.

The closure affects about 160 workers, including more than 30 E tū members who work in maintenance.

Delegate and E tū industry spokesperson Bruce Habgood says while there’s relief from some workers that there is more clarity around what their future holds, the sense of loss is real.

“There’s a strong sense of mourning that the mill is shutting down – it’s been a big part of the town’s history for several generations and is the reason Kawerau township was built in the first place.

“While the mill now isn’t the huge employer it used to be, there’s many other businesses that have been created to support it – and they may really suffer ‘death by a thousand cuts’ once the mill’s gone.”

Bruce says the closure highlights the importance of workers being unionised, so that they have access to collective agreements that contain redundancy provisions and protections.

“Some of the workers at the mill are of an age and skillset that means they aren’t so employable anymore and might never work again. We also really need businesses to have their own transition plans going forward so that workers have choices and alternatives.”

Outplacement services will be available to workers, but E tū will be looking at how to formally recognise workers’ skills gained on the job so they can take up other employment opportunities, Bruce says.

E tū organiser Raymond Wheeler says E tū will also be discussing re-skilling and training opportunities for all mill workers.

Having a ‘Just Transition’ plan in place is crucial to ensuring workers have a future when businesses close, and this includes provisions such as social insurance as the Government proposed in Budget 2021, he says.

“A Just Transition is vital, both now and for future generations to come, and is a concept which the Climate Change Commission has recognised is key in transitioning to a low-carbon future.

“We also need to continue to progress the Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) for the forestry and wood processing sector and see what can be done to bring more of the manufacturing supply chain back to Aotearoa New Zealand.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Raymond Wheeler, 027 597 5404

Whakatāne Mill to stay open under new owner

Whakatāne Mill will stay open with the sale to the new owner now finalised.

The mill, one of the largest employers in the region, has been bought by The Smurfit Consortium with the buyout announced on Monday.

More than 150 people are employed at the mill, which is long established for producing folding box board and has been running since the 1930s.

Longstanding E tū delegate for 20 years at the site, Robert de Raat, says most are pleased the mill will not be closing.

“There are families where three or four generations have worked at the mill, and people want to see this employment opportunity stay for their kids.”

E tū organiser for Whakatāne Mill, Fiona McQueen, says there’s a sense of relief the months of uncertainty have come to an end.

“People wanted the doors to stay open so that jobs could remain in this community, and we have worked with the company to make sure there’s good outcomes and benefits for all involved.”

Assistant National Secretary for E tū Annie Newman says although the mill’s future is now secure, the upheaval in many industries, due to factors such as globalisation and climate change, highlights the need for a national strategy around the concept of a ‘Just Transition’ for workers.

“We need to ensure the future of work is about decent jobs and income stability – making sure people are prepared for change and have the opportunities to upskill and retrain when needed.

“Their voices also need to be at the heart of creating the solutions that will guide their working futures.”

ENDS

Weeks of uncertainty ahead for Kawerau Mill workers

Workers at Kawerau’s pulp and paper mill are facing weeks of uncertainty as their employer, Norske Skog, have commenced with a consultation process about the future of the mill, including potential closure.

More than 150 workers, including 30 E tū members, are affected by the proposal, which was announced on Wednesday afternoon.

E tū Engineering, Infrastructure and Extractions Industry Council Convenor and site delegate Bruce Habgood says in the wake of the proposal, there is “lots and lots of uncertainty” for members.

“There’s simply lots of uncertainty – until we can get around the table and have some meaningful conversation with the company.

“At this stage there are no guarantees, and a lot of people are in limbo.”

Bruce says although many workers don’t live in the Kawerau township itself, any potential closure would inevitably have a further-reaching effect on other local businesses and suppliers.

“The future of work and manufacturing is the issue here – the situation shows how vital industry transformation is and to ensure a Just Transition for all affected workers.”

E tū organiser at the Kawerau Mill Raymond Wheeler says while the consultation has started, as it is still in the very early stages, the union cannot draw any conclusions on potential outcomes as details have not been fully disclosed.

“Our priority is supporting our members – we are there to support both them and the community during the consultation period.”

The consultation is expected to run for two weeks.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Raymond Wheeler, 027 597 5404

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