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Stop the presses: Closure of Masterton Webstar proposed

Wairarapa’s largest printing press is on the line, with Blue Star proposing to close its Webstar Masterton facility.

Yesterday’s announcement came as a shock for the 40 employees who could be affected, Blue Star chief executive Jill Cowling said.

“We have a lot of good people who have been with our business for a long time. There are a number of employees who have been there for more than 20 years,” she said.

“This afternoon would have been a shock.”

Cowling said the proposal, should it go ahead, would see operations shift from Masterton to Webstar’s Auckland printing facility, with some work transferred to plants elsewhere.

In 2020, the number of staff at the Ngaumutawa Rd plant was halved when Webstar expanded its operations in Auckland, resulting in the loss of more than 40 local jobs.

Then-chief executive Bernie Roberts said there was no intention to close Masterton’s plant.

Cowling said yesterday that the proposal was driven by a long-term trend away from printed material such as directories – the original output of Masterton’s plant when it opened in 1979 as part of the Government Printing Office.

The lease on the Webstar Masterton building will expire on January 31, 2024, which Cowling said was the catalyst for Blue Star to re-evaluate “whether it should renew its lease, reinvest in the business, or ultimately close the plant”. “In short, we have reached the point where Masterton may no longer be commercially viable.”

Cowling said the past 18 months to two years had seen “incredibly challenging” supply chain issues and costs increasing across the board – particularly in raw materials, with some up more than 60 per cent.

Cowling stopped short of saying the writing was on the wall but conceded it would take a “really good idea, some incredible feedback” to keep the plant open.

The Times-Age is one of Webstar Masterton’s biggest clients; publisher Andrew Denholm said it was a disappointing development and that he felt for the plant’s employees.

“That’s the real shame here. We’ve been given assurances production will continue in the meantime, and we’re exploring other options.

“But if it closes, it would be a huge loss to the region.”

Cowley said Blue Star would be consulting with Masterton Webstar staff and the E Tu Union in the coming weeks.

If the proposal goes ahead, redundancies will begin as soon as September with the aim of being finalised by January, after the plant is decommissioned.

Cowling said there was no indication that Masterton’s closure would affect staff in Auckland.

“There is enough capacity to service the market with the potential closure of Webstar Masterton,” she said.

“It has been a very difficult day for our people, and right now, their wellbeing is the most important thing.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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