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TIMBER MILL FINALLY SAVED

19-09-2017
by 
in 

After months of uncertainty the sale of Australian Sustainable Hardwoods' (ASH) Heyfield mill has been finalised, giving relief to the town and its workers. 

The mill was originally slated to close in March, but after protests and demonstrations outside Victorian State Parliament by workers, the Labor government stepped in to buy the site and "save jobs". 

Now, with the finalised sale, ASH will continue operating, owned by a holding company made up of the state government and a shareholder group of ASH management.

Existing chief executive officer Vince Hurley, engineering and projects manager Garry Henthorn, national sales manager Brett Bould, marketing manager Daniel Ryan and commercial manager Ian Jones are now joint owners, putting in their own money to keep the company afloat.

The news was well received.

"A lot of people are saying, it's great, we've finally got some certainty, and now we've got a future and we know who's driving the bus," Hurley said.

"It's great to have that security, it's great that we are now going forward, we're not in a holding pattern ... we can go forward and do things, and keep improving.

"We are constantly putting things into different market segments and growing our business margin-wise, and growing our manufacturing capability, and that's where the jobs will be.

"So there's no fixed number (of employees) to get down to because we're increasing our manufacturing capability, it doesn't necessarily mean that as many jobs will have to go, we'll be able to maximise it.

"We've done a business plan, and the new board and state government will have a say in that draft business plan, and once it's finalised, that's what we'll be enacting," he said. 

Responding to opposition criticisms that the Labor government failed to save all 250 jobs after the company's green mill was reduced to one shift, Mr Hurley reiterated there had been no involuntary redundancies.

"We have 24 people who have left or will be leaving the company they're all voluntary, they're going to new opportunities or retiring, and they've asked to do that," Mr Hurley said.

"Now we've got a bit of time to plan for how we can maximise job opportunities going forward.

"The Latrobe Valley Authority will be able to discuss future pathways to employees who want to take redundancy, enable assistance in training and other things to enable that to occur."

Mr Hurley said the company's priority was extending the tenure of its timber supply contract with VicForests, which currently stands at 80,000 cubic metres per year for three years.

"We have a three year contract with VicForests which provides us with some immediate certainty, and there'll be a process to enable us to get more volume after that three years," he said.

Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing said the government was standing by Heyfield and the whole of Gippsland.

"We will continue working to create and protect local jobs now and into the future, including through our investment of $110 million into plantation timber in Gippsland," she said.

Committee for Gippsland CEO Mary Aldred said the past 12 months had been tumultuous for ASH workers and the local Heyfield community, but the purchase would provide certainty and a path forward.

"The potential alternative of not having a mill in Heyfield was simply unacceptable as an outcome," Ms Aldred said.

"Today's announcement marks a line in the sand, and provides a clean slate for the company to start planning with its workforce for a sustainable, value-adding future here in Gippsland."

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