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Gippsland business negotiates with VicForests over 12 months – no end in sight

Photo courtesy Drake Group

Blair and Campbell Pty Ltd, a forest business that employs more than 10 staff in the East Gippsland area, has had to deal with uncertainty, unable to re-negotiate agreements with VicForests leaving them and their staff unable to plan for the future. Source: Timberbiz

“The latest advice received, following almost a year of back and forth suggests there is no resolution on when, or even if, we will be offered a new a new agreement, another devastating blow for our business on the ongoing merry-go-round of uncertainty,” Blair and Campbell Pty Ltd, director, Mr Adam Campbell said.

“We had been told wait until October 2020, then the end of 2020, even after the approval of plans we have received advice that there will be no resolution before the end of May 2021. VicForests will contact us in early June to discuss further options.”

The issue remains that even after a year of negotiations, assessments, planning and approval of Timber Release Plans, VicForests still doesn’t have confidence in the resource availably to start negotiating new agreements.

This is despite the fact they have continued to address the forest availability issue through renewed discussions with the State Government and the Office of the Conservation Regulator.

“VicForests is aware of the concerns that some of our contractors have in relation to contracts given the ongoing impacts of the summer bushfires,” a VicForests spokesman said.

“We will continue to maximise opportunities for work while these matters are resolved.”

Meanwhile, for Blair and Campbell, and many regional businesses, time has almost run out.

Overall, the flow-on effect to the employees, community, other businesses, and our region are expected to be significant.

“Negotiating contracts must commence now, not after they have expired,” Mrs Courtney Campbell, also a director of Blair and Campbell said.

“Failing to negotiate contracts places businesses like ours in an untenable position whereby retaining staff is almost impossible, investing in continuing the business cannot happen and maintaining the high level of standard we aspire to is unachievable.”

Earlier this month Blair and Campbell Pty Ltd meet with Victoria’s Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas, who carries responsibility for forestry.

They raised the importance of addressing certainty for their business and the need for government to provide resource security.

“Discussions with the Minister earlier this month were very encouraging, she took the time to listen and understand our issues, the need to address business and job security immediately,” Mr Campbell said.

“We felt she understood the importance of resource supply to deliver on the government’s 2024 supply commitments and went away feeling like there was the hope of a resolution for us”.

With existing agreements expiring at the end of June, and the latest advice that Blair and Campbell Pty Ltd, like others, have received to wait until the end of May to possibly discuss options, it leaves the directors and the staff with no security, no confidence, no direction and unable to plan for the future. A scenario all too familiar and that is just not acceptable.