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Vic govt will support Opal workers but relies on Opal to do the right thing

Victoria’s State Government says supporting workers in the Latrobe Valley is a top priority and it welcomes Opal’s recent public confirmation of the importance of the Maryvale mill and its workers to the company’s future. Source: Timberbiz

We are and will continue discussions with Opal to determine any further investment needs to support its transition to plantation supply and recycled products.

Opal Australia announced last month it was shutting down its graphic paper manufacturing operations at its mill in Maryvale.

In a statement announcing the decision Opal’s owner Nippon Paper said the mill had sourced eucalyptus wood produced in Victoria’s state-owned forests as the raw material for bleached pulp, the main ingredient of graphic paper, from VicForests.

But it said that VicForests had been contesting a combined court case involving the Environment East Gippsland and Kinglake Friends of the Forest environmental groups since 2021 regarding its timber harvesting activities.

The company said that in response to this sudden and unexpected suspension of supply, alternative wood supplies had been investigated but had concluded that alternative procurement was not feasible and had decided to discontinue the graphic paper business at the mill.

The company says it now focus on its packaging business.

Unions believe about 200 people may lose their jobs.

The State Government said that while discussions with Opal were “robust negotiations, as any commercial negotiation should be” the government was firm in its commitment to supporting workers and their families who are being directly impacted during this challenging time and to those who will continue to be employed at the mill.

“A redeployment and redundancy process is currently underway, subject to relevant law and the company’s enterprise agreement,” the government said.

The company is yet to confirm final outcomes of this process.

The government said it expected Opal to do the right thing at every step of this process – continuing to consult with workers and unions, continuing to pay stood-down workers, offering voluntary redundancies, and keeping job losses as minimal as possible.

“The Labor Government continues to provide funds for Opal to support wage payments to stood-down workers. Unlike earlier Government support, provided when Opal had not yet announced its exit from white paper, this money must be fully repaid by Opal to taxpayers,” the government said.

The Government says it has activated a dedicated Opal Worker Support Service, available via ForestWorks, to all affected workers by calling 1800 177 001. This service is being expanded through the Latrobe Valley Authority and Gippsland Trades and Labour Council.

The Latrobe Valley Authority and Regional Development Victoria is working as a part of the whole-of-government response to the situation. The Latrobe Valley Authority maintains an open-door policy to all workers and the community, as it has always done since the Hazelwood closure.

VicForests will have its appeal heard in the Supreme Court later this month. Government continues to seek long-term solutions to the supply challenge.