PMB plant faces closure

2008-07-15 00:00

Timber processor PG Bison, a household name in Pietermaritzburg, is set to close its longstanding Willowton Plant at the end of next month, potentially leaving about 245 employees jobless.

Upset workers said they were called into a meeting at 11 am yesterday where their worst fears were confirmed. Rumours of the possible closure had been circulating for days.

Workers interviewed by The Witness believe the closure is a fait accompli. They say they were addressed by a human resources executive and were told that the plant will close at the end of August. “We were told that there will be no relocations for the 245 workers affected. The meeting lasted more than one hour and 15 minutes and staff asked a lot of questions,” said a worker.

The Witness contacted the company, which later issued a statement saying: “PG Bison is contemplating the closure of the particle board plant at its Pietermaritzburg facility and has entered into consultations with the relevant unions and staff in this regard.”

The move comes amid diminishing demand for particle board. According to the statement, some workers will move to PG Bison operations around the country.

CEO Chris van Niekerk said reduced local demand and a dramatic increase in the demand for raw material inputs in this region resulted in a lack of security of future raw material supply for the Pietermaritzburg plant, dictating a strategic review of the business.

“We are acutely aware that a decision like this affects individuals and their families … It is, however, necessary to ensure our continued long-term preparedness for growth,” said Van Niekerk.

The company recently invested about R1,5 billion in a plant in the town of Ugie in the Eastern Cape. Apparently, the Ugie plant produces the equivalent of three factories’ output and its labour costs are much lower, a worker said.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Andrew Layman said it is unfortunate that market forces have brought about such a decision.

“If in fact this is the case, it is a sad development for … workers affected. We trust PG Bison to deal with the workers in a proper way … one must have respect for the strategic decisions that are made in the wake of market trends.”

A June 2007 Msunduzi Municipal report said that although PG Bison is a source of substantial smoke emissions, the local operation made significant strides in lowering emissions by spending about R20 million.

PG Bison is a subsidiary of the JSE-listed Steinhoff group.

kavith@witness.co.za

nalini@witness.co.za

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