'Miracle' solution to jobs crisis

Last updated 13:36 24/11/2008
MARK TAYLOR/Waikato Times
SUCCESS: Union organiser Red Middlemiss says it is a miracle jobs have been found for redundant workers.

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A union organiser is hailing "an employment miracle" which is poised to provide jobs for all workers recently made redundant at Carter Holt Harvey's Putaruru sawmill.

And the region's mayor says it can provide hope for towns hit by the economic downturn.

Last month CHH announced the mill would close on December 12, with 212 jobs disappearing, while a further 100 would also go at the company's plywood plant in Mt Maunganui.

But a potentially crippling blow for the town and the South Waikato district has been averted through union, employer and community initiatives - and some major energy projects gearing up north of Taupo - according to Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union organiser Red Middlemiss.

Some 118 new jobs were created at CHH's plywood division at Kinleith, after existing workers there agreed to a union plan to reduce their hours and change the shift structure, with some of the new positions also being filled by laid off Mt Maunganui workers.

And as many as 60 workers are expecting to start work in the new year on the construction of the $450 million Nga Awa Purua geothermal power station at Rotokawa, 10km northeast of Taupo, or Contact Energy's massive Te Mihi geothermal project near Wairakei, where the workforce is expected to eventually peak at about 400.

Another 50 jobs "came out of the woodwork" in and around Putaruru, while four tradesmen found jobs as far away as Rotowaro, 10km west of Huntly.

"This has turned into a real community success story," Mr Middlemiss said. "Anybody that wanted a job has a job to go to.

"Even with everyone who wants a job, it won't fill all the positions we have now got. Nowhere near.

"You just would not have expected it, but we have had an employment miracle. You would have thought, `man, all these people going down the drain' and we might have found half a dozen jobs when the mill closed.

Existing workers at Carter Holt Harvey Plywood Tokoroa agreed to reduce from 48 hours a week to 42, with extra shifts introduced for the redundant workers.

Mr Middlemiss praised the work of South Waikato Mayor Neil Sinclair and the efforts of Tokoroa plywood mill manager Ian Potter.

Mr Sinclair said success was achieved through a cooperative effort. "It is a tribute to the union, the Ministry of Social development and the company.

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"We have been the first town to be bit by the economic downturn and have been able to get off the block.

"Hopefully this can now put confidence back into the town (Putaruru) and we can see flow-on effects for retailers.

"We are lucky to have the energy triangle down there (south of Tokoroa)."

But he said it also helped that the workers were so well organised.

- Waikato Times

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