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Negotiations to reopen Prime sawmill in NZ

Some of the 100 workers faced with losing their jobs at a Gisborne, New Zealand sawmill could find work at nearby mothballed sawmill which plans to reopen. Sources: Stuff NZ, Gisborne Herald

Eastland Community Trust (ECT) said it was in the “final stages” of negotiations with a New Zealand-based sawmiller, which is likely to buy and recommission Prime sawmill in Manutuke “in the very near future”.

ECT’s economic development agency, Activate Tairawhiti, general manager Steve Breen said the organisation wanted to help JNL with its process to scale back its Gisborne plant by collaborating with the industry to avoid or minimise the impact of possible job losses.

The Prime Sawmill, which closed in 2009 could be reopened soon.

“[JNL’s] issues in the Japanese market are in stark contrast to very strong demand for New Zealand wood products from other Asian markets and from around the globe,” Mr Breen said.

That demand bodes well for the wider industry prospects and with the development of the Prime site in particular.”

JNL’s Matawhero Mill in Gisborne has put forward a proposal to cut 100 jobs.

Mr Breen expected to release further details on the new sawmill company in the next two weeks, but expected the sale would “create a significant number of jobs on site” by March.

“This is also a critical building block in unlocking future cluster parties and creating further employment on site.”

ECT bought the Prime sawmill on Dunstan Road, Manutuke for NZ$7.4 million in 2015 after it closed in 2009.

Gisborne mayor Meng Foon says 100 jobs are substantial to the area.

Part of the site is used by an automated wood processing factory as part a NZ$9.4m joint venture between the ECT and Wood Engineering Technology to turn low grade logs into high-value structural timber for new buildings.

The factory processes low grade logs taken from near the top of radiata pine trees, also called “J logs” or “K logs” and are typically exported or used in “one-time use” products like pallets.

Wood Engineering Technology managing director Peter Pettit said the “highly automated” factory on Dunstam Rd, on the same site as the sawmill, employed about 15 people.

Mr Pettit did not expect to hire many of the workers from JNL who were laid off because they had more “traditional” wood processing skills. But he was optimistic that they would find work at the reopened sawmill.

ECT’s commercial project manager Tony Coombe said he hoped to hire former JNL employees if the layoffs went ahead.

“If you have the skilled workers, then you would hope to put them back in a similar job,” Mr Coombe said.

Mr Pettit said the log harvest has grown incredibly on the East Coast since the government created tax incentives for people to grow pines.

“Wood will be the building material of this century, that’s just what’s going to happen.”

Gisborne mayor Meng Foon said a 100 job loss was substantial for the area and there was likely to be anxiety among workers at JNL as they go through the consultation period.

Mr Foon was aware of negotiations between ECT and a sawmill operator, and said jobs created by Wood Engineering Technology and the Prime Sawmill would eventually make up for the number of jobs lost at JNL.