Almost 200 people will lose their jobs by the end of this year following the sale of Norske Skog's Ettamogah mill to Australian paper giant Visy.
Norske Skog's regional president Eric Luck met with most of the mill's 183 staff members at 3pm on Thursday, informing them of the impending sale.
He said the mill would cease newsprint production in December.
Mr Luck would not reveal how much the Albury plant was purchased for, but said the newsprint market had been in decline for years.
He said the handover to Visy was slated to occur by March next year.
Asked if there would be any positions at Visy for Norske Skog's redundant workers, Mr Luck said he could not speak for the new owners, but paid tribute to the hard work of staff, who will receive full entitlements.
"That decision will be up to Visy," he said.
"Our employees are very competent hard working and loyal. If there's the opportunity for them to work for Visy I think... it would be good for them to take them."
The Albury mill began operation on August 28, 1981 and has run under two previous owners, Australian Newsprint Mills and Fletcher Challenge.
Norske Skog purchased the plant in 2000.
At its height the mill was staffed by 250 people.
Visy released a statement late Thursday stating the company "plans to undertake feasibility studies to explore future uses" for the Albury newsprint mill, but no other details were given.
Workers at the Albury mill told The Border Mail the decision was not entirely out of the blue and there had been rumours about the plant's fate circulating the workplace.
Workers saddened, but not shocked
One man, who's worked at the mill for almost two decades, said it was "a sad day, but not totally unexpected".
"It's a tough environment we're operating in, newsprint all over the world is doing it tough," he said.
"Then you throw in factors like energy and gas costs and the fact that there are guys out here on $40 to $50 an hour and people in Asia doing the same thing for less than a quarter of that.
"We just can't compete."
Mr Luck said most employees would finish up in December when production ceased "but some will carry through into the new year as we make good the assets in readiness to hand over to Visy".
The closure of Norske Skog's newsprint mill was a surprise but not a complete shock for many workers at the Albury plant.
Following the company's sudden announcement they were ceasing production and selling the mill to Visy, staff told The Border Mail it was an upsetting day, but not entirely out of the blue as they'd witnessed the demand for newsprint decline.
"The writing was on the wall," one employee said.
"People aren't buying newspapers anymore."
The employee, who has worked at the plant for 15 years, said it had been a great place to work and he hopes he will be able to get employment with Visy.
"They handled it as best as they could," he said.
Another worker, who did not attend Thursday's announcement, said there had been speculation about the fate of the mill over recent weeks.
"There's been secret squirrel stuff for a month-and-half with management not saying anything," she said.
The employee said she would have appreciated a more upfront approach.
"It's disappointing they didn't go through the process with the workers," she said.
Workers received packages containing redundancy details at Thursday's meeting.
Staff will be supported through tough time
Norske Skog's regional president Eric Luck said the mill would operate as usual up until newsprint production ceased in December.
At that time, the majority of employees will finish work, while some will stay on to prepare the mill for Visy's takeover, which is expected to occur in March, 2020.
The Albury mill has been running for 38 years.
"It's been a fantastic site and a fantastic contributor to the Albury community," he said.
"Whilst it's sad, we think this could be the best outcome for the employees and the greater community.
"I think the mood (in the meeting) was such that people were expecting something."
Mr Luck said all employees would receive full entitlements and counselling would be made available to all staff, noting the announcement follows a particularly tough period at the mill.
Less than 18 months ago two employees, Ben Pascall and Lyndon Quinlivan, died in a workplace accident, which left another employee in a critical condition.
Another employee was not physically injured in the accident, but died weeks later.
"I also acknowledge that today's decision comes after what has been a very tough year for the mill, and its employees, families and friends," Mr Luck said.
Declining market, rising costs
Formal discussions between Visy and Norske Skog's parent company Oceanwood, began at the start of the year.
A strategic asset review conducted by Oceanwood confirmed the need to reduce their production by around 260,000 tonnes - about the output of the Albury mill.
Mr Luck said the decision to reduce Norke Skog's capacity was a response to the "the need to address declining domestic sales, lower prices and increased reliance on exports into volatile Asian markets".
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"The newsprint market has been in continual decline now for many years and we've been taking market downtime," he said.
"We currently export about 260,000 tonnes into a market that is both volatile and low price, it's a factor unfortunately of our industry. so it was a strategic decision to reduce our capacity."
Mr Luck said many Australian exporters had costs their competitors did not, especially considering power prices.
"The prices in South East Asia and India currently are particularly low and of course we do face cost pressures on energy, fibres, chemicals," he said.
"It's all part and parcel of the total that comes into the factors when you make a decision like this."
Late Thursday, Visy did not indicate what the mill might be used for under their ownership other than saying feasibility studies would be undertaken.
"The location is strategic, being mid-way along the main Sydney-Melbourne transport corridor," a statement said.
Norske Skog will continue to produce newsprint at two Australasian plants, one in Boyer, Tasmania, and one in Tasman, New Zealand.
Early indications are that newsprint for The Border Mail will likely come from Boyer, Tasmania.