NORTH ISLAND GAZETTE FILE PHOTO                                Neucel Specialty Cellulose has been in production curtailment since 2015.

NORTH ISLAND GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Neucel Specialty Cellulose has been in production curtailment since 2015.

Neucel to recall laid-off employees

“This will allow us to keep some of our most experienced employees.”

Neucel Specialty Cellulose will be recalling laid-off workers for maintenance on the 100+ year old pulp mill in Port Alice.

A letter from Warren Beatty, Vice-President of Human Resources for Neucel Specialty Cellulose Ltd., was sent to Port Alice council on Oct. 25 regarding the situation.

“Neucel is preparing to recall some of the laid off hourly employees to complete necessary work for the mill’s asset preservation, preparation for the upcoming winter, as well as the work for the investors’ site visit and the external engineering study,” wrote Beatty. “Although a complete recall of employees is not possible at this time, the planned jobs will provide work for approximately a four month period with the possibility of extended or expanded work if the negotiations are successful. We anticipate being in a position to send out recall notices in about two weeks’ time once our planning work is completed.”

When asked how many employees will be recalled, Beatty stated the number “is not confirmed right now — we’re currently planning the work, and the work that we will be able to accomplish will dictate the number of employees called back.”

Beatty was unable to confirm what kind of work the recalled employees would actually be doing on the pulp mill. “Specific jobs haven’t been identified, because there’s a number of factors,” he said. “We don’t have an unlimited budget, so the jobs have to be focused on asset preservation, preparation for winter, and the upcoming site visit from the potential investor — we have to make the mill as presentable as possible.”

According to Beatty’s letter, initial discussions with a potential investor in China were favourable, and Neucel was asked to prepare a restart plan that included significant changes to the process currently in use which, if implemented, would see major equipment replacement, significantly reducing operating costs and increased production capacity which would ensure the long term viability of the Port Alice operation. The potential investor has also contracted a US company with extensive experience in the pulp and paper industry to visit the mill in Port Alice to conduct an engineering assessment most likely before the end of 2017.

If the restart plan is accepted as presented, Neucel “would no longer be using ammonia in the process, there would have to be changes made in the digesters, and in our power and recovery department,” said Beatty, adding automating the finishing room would also be another cost saving option the company would be looking at.

When asked if the 514 Union had been made aware of Neucel’s plan to recall some of the laid-off workers, Beatty said they were “advised of the update yesterday,” adding “this will allow us to keep some of our most experienced employees.”

With the last batch of union employee contracts ending on Dec. 31, Beatty confirmed once the employees come back to work, “it will actually reset their recall rights for another 18 months from the end of the work.”

In February 2015, the Neucel Specialty Cellulose mill in Port Alice, BC went into a production curtailment following three consecutive years of unfavourable pulp prices, combined with the high cost of oil, energy energy consumption and operating chemicals, as well as an unfavourable low US/CAN$ exchange rate.

The mill has remained in curtailment ever since.

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