Worries for big Wairarapa employer

PIERS FULLER
Last updated 15:41 19/09/2012

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Workers at one of Wairarapa's biggest employers, Webstar, are anxious about their job security and future employment conditions as its owners are in the throes of selling up.

The printing plant in Ngaumutawa Rd in Masterton employees 135 people.

The major shareholder of its parent company Blue Star Group hired investment bank Goldman Sachs to run a sales process for the troubled trans-Tasman printing group in July. Webstar, which has operations in Auckland and Masterton, has performed well in recent years and is described as the jewel in the crown of the company.

Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) representative for this area, Mark James, said Blue Star has been in a precarious position for more than a year, but Webstar's strength should give it some security.

"Workers there are well aware of the contribution that Webstar Masterton make to the overall profitability to the Blue Star company.

"Of course, anyone in this day and age is anxious about their job.

"I would imagine that any outcome of this would be that Webstar would be sold as a going concern, and therefore we would hope that it would just be a changing of the overalls and business would continue as usual," he says. There was concern from the union and its members when they heard that some potential buyers had put in offers.

If Blue Star goes into liquidation there could be a limit on redundancy payments and the union is wary of "wolves looking to swoop in" to get a bargain and then force workers to accept inferior conditions.

The union is currently in negotiations to renew the collective employment agreement.

"We are hoping that the new or prospective owner will employ the workers on the same terms and conditions of employment, hence avoiding the redundancy payout by Blue Star but also then giving security to the workers going forward."

Webstar general manager Bernie Roberts says the business is limited in what it can disclose about the sale process, but he says Webstar Masterton is in a strong position, having invested heavily in the plant in recent years and managing to grow the operation from when it only had a single contract printing phonebooks in late 1990s.

"I don't think the concern that has been raised by the EPMU is anything that is unusual or unexpected. It's uncertain for everyone in the company and the wider group, to the extent that you just don't know where it's going to lead to, but I think Webstar is a solid business and forms a good part of the platform," he says.

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- Wairarapa News

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