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Juken jobs may go

Gisborne New Zealand’s Juken wood processing plant is looking to halve its workforce because of a weak Japanese housing market, affecting about 100 jobs. Source: Gisborne Herald

Staff from Juken New Zealand’s timber mill here were told of the proposal to cut production of plywood and laminated timber products at its Matawhero plant.

The factory has about 200 staff and will continue to process logs into other building products from the company’s East Coast forests.

But the announcement has been followed with brighter news. Eastland Community Trust’s strategy for a wood cluster or NZ Centre of Excellence for wood processing for Gisborne would create a significant number of jobs by the end of this quarter.

JNL general manager Dave Hilliard said Japanese demand had been falling and the local product was also uncompetitive against foreign-made products.

“The Japanese housing market has been in decline and future demand for these products is not expected to improve because of the ageing population in Japan.

“Significant investment would be required to increase to a scale to compete internationally. “At this time, there is just not the log or manufacturing volume of appropriate quality and price to justify that investment.”

The Gisborne plant had been losing money despite efforts to streamline and economise, he said.

FIRST Union president Robert Reid said although this was a proposal for consultation at this stage, “we all know that companies don’t make such proposals unless they’re serious about them”.

JNL would mothball its LVL (plywood) production, with a loss of 97 jobs. production, with a loss of 97 jobs.

“If implemented, this is going to be devastating for the affected workers and the community.

“Lots of families have multiple members who work at the mill. For others, although wages aren’t great, it’s the difference between being in poverty or not,” Mr Reid said.

The Government needed to intervene to address the market failure and promote a sustainable social and economic plan for the region’s forestry industry.

“Before the election, Labour promised to create more jobs in the region’s wood sector, announcing a $20 million proposal to establish a prefab mill in Gisborne.

“Fast-tracking this and other job creation proposals must be a priority,” Mr Reid said.

Feedback on the consultation will close on February 7, with a final decision announced to staff on Monday February 12.

“The unions are calling on the Government to immediately establish a taskforce of its agencies with the industry, community and union leaders to implement a wood plan for Gisborne,” Mr Reid said.

Mr Hilliard said the company would work with government agencies and Gisborne iwi, civic, community and business leaders over alternative employment opportunities for people, should the changes go ahead.

Juken, owned by the Japan-based One Wood Ltd, has forests and sawmills in Northland, the East Coast and Wairarapa, and has about 1000 staff around the country.

The company’s plant near Masterton would change the mix of products it makes but no job losses are planned among the 220 staff.

Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon said it was always a concern when a organisation was going through restructuring.

“The workers have my full support. They have worked hard for Juken and many have been there since the beginning.

“We will work closely with other organisations to give our support.”

Labour MP for Ikaroa Rawhiti Meka Whaitiri said the 200 workers need to remain calm and engaged over management proposals to restructure the business.

“I feel for the workers who now have to face this restructuring, and dealing with uncertainty is really tough on workers and their families.

“It’s really reassuring that Juken says it’s committed to maintaining wood processing in the Gisborne region in its bid to return to profitability.

“It’s also heartening that the company has said there will be a two-week consultation period before any final changes. Ms Whaitiri said she has been actively working with the company in its bid to manage this situation after the Japanese housing market went into decline.

“The company has made it clear that the biggest impact will be on the manufacture of plywood and structural LVL products.

“The Government sees a strong future in forestry and I think the workers can take a lot of heart from that.”

East Coast MP Anne Tolley said she was disappointed to hear the news and felt for all the families involved.

“This is a very difficult time for them all.”

 On a brighter note, the company did produce high-quality logs and processed them into highquality timber.

“They should be able to, gradually over time, increase this and hopefully replace those jobs,” Mrs Tolley said.