The Nationals have slammed the State Government in Victoria for offering native timber workers “appalling and inadequate compensation payouts” at the industry’s death knell. Source: Timberbiz
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Public Land Use and Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath labelled Labor’s compensation “anything but fair” and said, “it has left contactors, workers and their families bereft”.
The State Government in Victoria on Friday announced that community foresters and their workers would be given access to more transition support, with the Community Forestry Support Package now open to help workers transition out of native timber harvesting.
The support package gives Forest Produce Licensees and firewood operators Timber Sales Agreements compensation for undersupply since November 2022.
The State Government says the package will also compensate operators for plant and equipment no longer required and reimburse businesses in full for worker redundancy payments.
Community forestry workers, including seed collectors and chip-truck drivers, can also access Worker Support Payments, including redundancy top-ups and a $3000 one-off hardship payment, via the Victorian Forestry Worker Support Program.
Businesses can choose whether they want to exit straight away or nominate a date up to 30 June 2024 and continue working until then.
“Former Premier Daniel Andrews said ‘whatever it takes’ after promising Labor will ‘deliver a managed transition to support every worker and every business. Because we’ll never leave them to go it alone’.
“Only weeks ago, Premier Allan committed to meeting with the Australian Forestry Contractors Association to negotiate compensation but has failed to do so,” said Ms Bath.
“The offer fails to acknowledge the enormous debt timber contractors owe on equipment purchased for a 2030 closure, that the Labor Government reneged on.
“Labor has fallen well short of delivering adequate compensation for its forced loss of livelihood.
“Contractors are facing an uncertain future, loss of their life’s work come and potential displacement from their communities – fair payment of compensation is warranted.
“This offer is paltry recognition of the debt created for timber contractors by Labor.”
The State Government is offering harvest contractors 30 cents in the dollar and haulage contractors 50 cents in the dollar on existing agreements. Those contractors who opt to transfer to DEECA firefighting receive nothing.
Member for Morwell Martin Cameron criticised the Labor Government, calling them “shameful” for their abandonment of contractors and workers.
“Labor’s offering is a case of double jeopardy and it’s the final insulting blow to the native timber industry,” he said.
“The Premier has shown a total disregard for timber workers, treating them as disposable.
“This so-called package was dropped late Friday following the last sitting week of the year to avoid all scrutiny of Labor, and it stinks.”
Ms Bath last week in State Parliament called on the Victorian Treasurer to work with the Commonwealth Treasurer to deliver a fairer tax regime on employee redundancy payments.
“Frustratingly employees are having their redundancies substantially diminished through taxation as Labor failed to ensure lump sum payments would not be adversely impacted,” she said.
“Labor’s timber package is a complete cop out, it’s certainly not fair compensation.”
Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull, said the latest offering is unfair and falls well short of the mark.
“The day after the last sitting of Parliament for the year, the government puts out a paltry package it cannot be questioned on until February next year – disgraceful behaviour,” he said.
Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Emma Kealy, said the package does not offer the security the timber workers deserve.
“The native timber industry represents a large segment of the state’s overall timber industry, creating 2500 jobs. Jacinta Allan has failed native timber workers,” she said.
“As a result of her not meeting with them as promised, there are significant shortfalls in relation to fair compensation for these family businesses, workers and communities that were built around a sustainable forest industry – an industry now destroyed by Labor.
“Premier Allan can’t manage money, can’t manage projects and can’t manage to respect Victoria’s timber workers as she cuts down their jobs, their industry and the future of their communities,” she said.