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Nippon Paper yet to decide the future of Opal’s white paper production

Since 120 workers were stood down in December at Australia’s last remaining office paper manufacturer, Opal, unions and workers have been waiting for news of the future of the white paper line at the Gippsland Maryvale mill. Source: Timberbiz

It was reported yesterday by ABC Gippsland that the Nippon Paper Group which is one of the world’s largest paper and packaging companies and the owner of Opal Australia, is due to make a decision on the future of the line this week.

Continuing problems obtaining hardwood timber was blamed for the temporary closure of the line. VicForests has been unable to supply suitable timber since late last year as protracted litigation has stopped VicForests from meeting some of its contracts. The Maryvale Mill emptied its stockpile of hardwood and was forced to close the white paper line.

Opal issued a statement saying that it is considering the potential future closure of its white side operations at the Maryvale mill. Timberbiz contacted Opal to ascertain whether a statement on the mill’s future would be made this week, but the company was unable to confirm or deny it.

However, the company said in a recent statement that it would be consulting extensively with its Maryvale team members, but no decisions have been made to date.

The company said it has been exploring other avenues for alternative wood supply but said it had been unable to source viable alternatives to replace the VicForests shortfall.

The company had an agreement with the Victorian Government to continue to pay Opal team members who had been stood down, but this is due to expire mid-February.

Around 200 workers would be made redundant if the white paper line is closed, the mill also produces brown paper but that is not affected.

In a statement the company said that in addition to Opal’s own Employee Assistance Program and other support services, a new Worker Support Service has been established by the Victorian Government to support Opal Australian Paper team members affected by potential stand downs and operational changes as may be required.

The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region Melina Bath had demanded answers on future job security for workers at Opals Maryvale Mill from the Andrews Government’s Minister for Agriculture.

Ms Bath said Ms Tierney refused to provide a guarantee the future security of the 200 Maryvale Mill jobs in question.

“Instead of guaranteeing job security, Minister Tierney spruiked a workers support service scheme it had ‘rapidly activated’ for mill workers that included employment and mental health support services.

“These are activities that would not be needed if workers were not facing the real prospect of permanent redundancy – they’re cold comfort to the workers who have been stood down.

“Labor just don’t get it – Latrobe Valley locals are not satisfied with Labor’s response of ‘minimising job impacts’, they want long term job security,” she said.

Opal has said that it is focused on securing the future of the Maryvale site which has a key role to play in manufacturing paper for the Opal Packaging Division.