THUNDER BAY, Ont. (CP) -- The news Thursday that 170 AbitibiBowater employees are going back to work in February was tempered with a word of caution that the Thunder Bay operation is not out of the woods yet.
Jean-Philippe Cote, AbitibiBowater's director of public affairs and government relations, said unionized employees and the provincial government were instrumental in the company's decision to restart the No. 5 paper machine which has been down since August.
"This is good news," Cote said, adding the paper machine would restarted the week of Feb. 1. "It means 170 employees will resume working that week."
Cote said union and company negotiators have made "some headway in competitive restructuring," and the province has given the company "a firm commitment ... that fibre for operating mills is being reserved" during an ongoing review of wood allocations in northwestern Ontario.
The machine restart is also expected to boost harvesting activity in area forests, resulting in some bush workers being recalled.
AbitibiBowater hit the off switch on the Thunder Bay mill's No. 4 and 5 paper machines on Aug. 21, putting 360 people out of work.
The company blamed low demand -- a long-standing issue in the pulp and paper industry -- for its decision.
The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union is applauding the restart.
National CEP rep Marvin Pupeza said he is happy 170 people are heading back to work, and agreed that union concessions helped in resurrecting the machine.
Meanwhile, Cote cautioned there was still work to do on the energy front, noting the mill's high electricity costs.
"We have the union component, we have the fibre, but we don't have the energy component in place yet," Cote said.
Pupeza said the union is encouraging the company to invest in biomass energy production.