The release of support packages for the forest contracting businesses being forced to exit the industry has shown that the Victorian Government has again failed to walk the talk, according to the Australian Forest Contractors Association. Source: Timberbiz
AFCA General Manager Tim Lester said forest contractors had approached negotiations with the government in good faith but had not been met with a fair and genuine compensation package despite the commitments that were repeatedly made.
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.
Minister for Agriculture Ros Spence announced the support package, which 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 Dan Andrews said ‘we will wrap every support we possibly can around the people, businesses and communities’. That is not evident in this package,” Mr Lester said.
“Former Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney provided a commitment for fair and genuine business compensation. We are yet to see it.
“Premier Allan said she would meet with us. We are still waiting.
“The package presented today to Harvest and Haulage contractors says paying out a contractual obligation is compensation. It is not.”
The State Government says any businesses that are not eligible for the Community Forestry Support Package, but are heavily dependent on the native timber industry, will be able to access plant and equipment compensation and reimbursement in full for worker redundancies through the Forestry Business Support Package due to open by the end of the year.
Over the next six months, the State Government says it will also update Forest Produce Licenses which will include the consideration of licenses for limited and very small-scale felling for niche industries such as instrument making.
Accessing the Community Forestry Support Package now does not prevent businesses from undertaking any future community forestry activities.
But Mr Lester was not impressed in the offer.
“Offering these hard-working Victorian business owners 30 cents in the dollar on their existing contracts is not fair, equitable or just when compared to destroying their livelihoods, their futures, forcing them to make their workers redundant, forcing them to take work away from their families and potentially putting them into a position where they could lose the house they live in,” he said.
“Contractors have been forced by this government into a situation where they have had to pay insurance and finance on machines that are sitting idle. Where they are carrying the costs of redundancies. Where they had had to manage the uncertainty and anxiety for themselves, their families, workers and communities.
“This government’s decision has taken a heavy financial and emotional toll. Our contractors have invested over a long time to create successful businesses in a sustainable industry, only to be told that their efforts, risk and stress is worth 30 cents in the dollar,” he said.
“It is a slap in the face.
“There are some positive elements in the packages that the government has presented, but trading off the needs of future forest management at the cost of those businesses who have no choice but to exit is just not right,” Mr Lester said.
For more information on how to get local support, please visit www.vic.gov.au/forestry or contact the Forestry Transition Hotline on 1800 318 182.
To register for the Victorian Forestry Worker Support Program call 1800 177 001 or visit www.forestworks.com.au