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CFMEU at loggerheads with FSC on new standards

Sara Gipton CEO FSC Australia

Just recently FSC Australia was making the news with what it called its ‘groundbreaking’ Australian version of the world’s strongest forestry standard. In FSC’s media release it pointed to a certification standard “jointly agreed by industry, environment and community interests”. While usually it is the environmental faction that is the sore point, in this instance it appears that the sore point sits squarely with the unions, in particular the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). Source: Timberbiz

In its media release of 12 November, the FSC stated: “The FSC Standard sets out rigorous requirements, including strong protections for (i) Indigenous rights and sacred sites; (ii) old growth forests, threatened species, and waterways; and (iii) workers’ health and safety. The standard also includes strong provisions for stakeholder consultation and local jobs. Some components of the Australian FSC Standard will undergo review and further strengthening in the near future, as FSC globally invests in further developing standards to ensure worker’s rights, health and safety”.

According to the CFMEU the claim that the Forest Stewardship Council has reached an “historic” deal that unites “timber companies, unionists and green groups on how forestry should be conducted in Australia” has been rejected as false with the union representative involved in the negotiations, Travis Wacey, not only voting against the final draft, but demanding this formal opposition be disclosed in any announcement.

Mr Wacey was elected by the FSC membership to represent the interests of workers on the committee in 2013 after receiving an endorsement from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).  At the time Mr Wacey was the policy research officer of the CFMEU’s Forestry and Furnishing Products Division and has that same role in the union’s new manufacturing division. He has held the role since 2009 and been an individual member of FSC Australia since 2010.

The last draft of the standard that the CFMEU agreed to was draft three of the standard in April 2016. This draft was the result of many proposals and counter-proposals in an effort to find consensus. It was the result of a process that commenced in early 2014.

Throughout 2016 proposals and drafts went back and forth between the FSC, the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) and the CFMEU in an effort to find common ground.

The Standard was sent to FSC International without a consensus motion and FSC International sent the Standard back to FSC Australia to try to get a consensus.

According to the CFMEU on 31 July 2017 an email was provided to the Standards Development Group erroneously claiming there had been a consensus reached on worker’s rights, that the standard was now agreed and contained a formal ballot.

The CFMEU said attempts failed to have the ballot withdrawn and the record corrected, and Mr Wacey voted against the standard and registered a formal objection to it on 4 August 2017.

On 25 August 2017, he wrote to the former FSC CEO of Australia suggesting that the Standard could be provisionally approved by FSC International while consensus on an acceptable processes, methodologies and potential verifiers around this section were established and agreed to by the FSC membership and key employer and employee industry stakeholders.

Subsequently Mr Wacey and former president of CFMEU Forestry Division Jane Calvert met with Kim Carstensen director general FSC International and Sara Gipton CEO FSC Australia expressing their dissatisfaction and outlining why they didn’t support the standard.

When it became clear FSC Australia intended to press ahead with the standard, the union wrote to Ms Gipton requesting that: “all communications, including any media releases will include the fact that the ACTU has not endorsed the standard”.

Mr Wacey said that in subsequent discussions Ms Gipton said that she was not inclined to include this information in communications. The CFMEU requested she put it to the board and made the point that if they were willing to go ahead with the standard against the union movement’s consent they should at least have the courage to be able to admit it.

When we contacted Ms Gipton she said that FSC had advised the ACTU and the CFMEU that they were free to make their own statements regarding the standard.

The Standard Development process involved the agreement between Standard Development Group members prior to finalisation. The process did not rely on the endorsement of external independent organisations, industry bodies or unions.

The national forest stewardship standard was developed by the ‘standard development group’ elected by FSC members representing a balance of environmental, social, and economic interests.

Ms Gipton told Timberbiz that the standard development group carry out extensive stakeholder consultation and then consider and vote on provisions contained in the standard.  The standard achieved majority support from the group members and was successfully finalised.

She said there would be an opportunity to provide feedback on relevant aspects of the standard in 2020 as part of FSC’s efforts towards ongoing review and improvement.

“We have informed the CFMEU and the ACTU of the upcoming review, and welcome their involvement in the consultation,” she told Timberbiz.

CFMEU’s formal vote against the proposed standard was substantiated by detailed proposals presented to the negotiating committee, and FSC leaders in Australia and overseas. These detailed the weaknesses of the standards on workers’ rights and their failure to address Australia’s significant non-compliance with International Labour Standards.

“The standard in its current form does very little to defend workers’ rights,” CFMEU National Secretary Michael O’Connor said.

“FSC is a big deal in Europe but it is fledgling in Australia. The union movement will not back it until it adequately addresses workers’ rights and we are urging consumers to likewise reject it as an exercise in green-washing that fails to properly engage with the men and women working in the forestry sector.”

In June 2015, the FSC Standard Development Group commissioned a report by an agreed independent expert professor Breen Creignton who found widespread non-compliance with Australian laws in regards to the ILO conventions around the rights of workers to collectively bargain, and freedom of association.Prof Creighton included options for remedying non-compliance. Many gaps between the requirements of the listed ILO Core Labour Conventions and national regulations were identified.

The result of this is that workers don’t know their rights under the standard and forest managers don’t know their obligations, which is unacceptable according to the CMFEU.

Mr Wacey said the consequences and ramifications could be far reaching. For example, under current Commonwealth Procurement Rules, paper and wood products can only be procured if they are produced in accordance to Australian Standards.

The consensus process applied for Australian standards states approval cannot proceed where “no major interest has collectively maintained a negative vote”.

Likewise, Victoria has introduced a policy where procurement is conducted in accordance with AS ISO 20400-Sustainable Procurement. The AS ISO 20400 standard requires engagement with trade unions, which the CFMEU says has failed in this instance.

Mr O’Connnor said that the FSC National Standard had been criticized at the Victorian ALP conference.

“The Victorian Labor conference decided to require employers in the Victorian industry — starting with VicForests, their forestry contractors, and Australian Sustainable Hardwoods at Heyfield — to sign up to a Forest Products Industry Code of Practice in Employment to address the compliance problems,” he said.

“Where the private sector fails to deliver, like FSC has, we’ll keep calling on government to fill the gap.”

Ms Gipton told Timberbiz that the FSC takes workers right very seriously: “these are embedded in the founding principles of the FSC standard”.

“The Australian standard contains some of the most rigorous workers’ rights requirements in the industry,” she said.

“New FSC International Generic Indicators (IGIs) have been developed that address the International Labour Organisations (ILO) Core Labour Conventions and these will be adopted by all National Standards by the end of 2020 and will further ensure workers’ rights, health and safety.”