All options are still on the table for Whakatane Mill, says East Coast MP Kiri Allan following meetings with unions, staff, and the leadership board.
The Whakatane community was shocked last week when more than 200 staff were presented with a proposal to close the mill, which will see them all made redundant by the end of June.
The mill has been an intergenerational employer in Whakatane for more than 80 years and produces paper and packaging products.
Over the weekend, Allan, Minister for Forestry, and Economic and Regional Development Stuart Nash, and Labour MP Tamati Coffey, met with mill leaders to see if anything could be done to save the struggling business.
Yesterday, Allan met with the workers and their unions, E Tu and First Union.
She says a lot of the employees, particularly young people just starting out, are feeling a lot of stress and uncertainty.
“Many were shocked to hear the news; they didn’t even know the mill was for sale,” says Allan.
“They are worried about mortgages and many have just begun to start families and are the main breadwinner, so there is a lot of stress about that.
“For the older guys who have been through redundancies before, they are focused on making sure the process goes as smoothly as possible. There are a lot of wise heads down there; they have a tight-knit workforce, and they are wanting to look out for each other.”
Estimates are that, beyond the 210 direct employees, there are also up to 100 direct contractors and many other businesses that support them indirectly.
Following the discussions with stakeholders, Allan has identified several workstreams.
These are investigating other options for the mill to remain open, supporting employees, investigating other employment sources for the employees and looking at issues the industry is facing as a whole.
Discussions have also been had with the mayors of Whakatane and Kawerau, iwi entities, and other potential employers.
Allan would not go into detail about what products the mill could potentially pivot towards producing, however, many in Whakatane have suggested sustainable packaging as an option.
While talks occur about how to keep the mill open, unions will be looking at how to support workers and how the Government can best help with that.
Allan says this could take the form of financial, emotional, or skills and training support through Government agencies.
She also says it's important to ensure the families of affected employees also received emotional support.
Going forward, weekly discussions will be held with all stakeholders as work is done to determine what viable options there are for the mill.
“All options are on the table."