Workers resist Burnie pulp mill closure

Wednesday, June 17, 1998

On June 3, Amcor announced that it will close its pulp mill in Burnie, throwing 230 employees out of work and destroying a major regional centre in Tasmania. The mill was making a profit, but Amcor didn't consider it high enough.

Green Left Weekly's JULIA PERKINS spoke to BRYAN GREEN, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) state organiser, about the campaign against the mill closure.

Question: How many jobs will be lost because of the closure?

The jobs lost at the mill amount to about 230, but the associated jobs make this figure much higher. For example, at least 50 bush workers' jobs will be lost at North West Products.

Question: What is the dispute really about?

It is about downstream processing versus exporting woodchips. It is about whether we as a community are going to allow big companies and the federal government to allow our resources to be shipped overseas and then import cheap pulp from countries where both the workers and the environment are being exploited.

Question: What does Amcor want?

Amcor says it wants a 15% return on investment. We are saying that in this day and age that's a very tall order. If the company will re-look at this expectation, we will look at proposed changes, as part of a broader package.

Question: What is the union's strategy to save the mill?

First, to highlight the imported pulp versus local jobs issue. Secondly, to emphasise the huge impact the closure will have on the rest of the state. Thirdly, to point out that there is no plant anywhere in the country which could meet the requirements laid down by the company. And fourthly, to ensure a package which will adequately meet the workers' needs and concerns.

At this stage the company only wants to talk about why it has no other option but to close the mill, while we want to embark on a real negotiation process which seriously aims to save jobs and keep the mill open.

Question: Has strike action been ruled out?

No way. We are holding stop-work meetings on June 15 in order to hold a rally in Burnie that day. Then we will be reporting to other Amcor sites on the mainland looking for national support.

Question: What was your reaction to the "fact finding" mission by federal MPs John Fahey and Jocelyn Newman on June 5?

We were extremely disappointed that the finance minister and the minister for social security were sent. This indicates that the government is only looking at how to best support a smooth transition from work to the dole for all those concerned. They should go back and report to the government on where they are going wrong.

Question: What support have you received from other unions and the community?

We've had fantastic support from both, and from the local council. The impact on the local community will be potentially devastating. The north-west coast already has an extremely high unemployment rate.

Because of the time frame, at the moment the organisation network has not really branched out beyond the union. However, if people want to help they can contact me at the AMWU office in Devonport on (03) 6424 7177.