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Tough times as forestry industry takes it day by day

'Wait and see'

A glimmer of hope emerged late yesterday for the forestry industry.

Eastland Wood Council (EWC) issued a statement saying some of the large log exporters have said they would start buying logs again from Tuesday.

But because the price of those logs was still falling in the market, some forestry companies might not take up that offer and adopt a “wait and see” approach, said EWC chief executive Kim Holland.

Ms Holland said several of their member companies, and their contractors, were still operating and would be assessing the situation again on Monday, along with the regional leadership team.

The two log ships at anchor in the bay would be loaded with logs later next week, she said.

“The situation is still evolving with a falling log price, and the effects of the coronavirus still to be determined.”

Ms Holland said the Chinese New Year break was extended because of the coronavirus, which meant stockpiles of logs at ports in China were not moving and were getting bigger.

This was compounded by the shutdown of Chinese sawmills, wood processing and manufacturing plants.

Plus, there was an over-supply of logs into China from Northern Europe.

“The flow through has meant some companies have put a temporary hold on harvesting, as they are unable to store harvested logs due to deterioration,” said Ms Holland.

It would not mean the end of difficult times for some, and contact numbers have been made available for emergency benefits from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) as well as a number for anyone who needed counselling.

Ms Holland said as of 3pm yesterday, they had 12 contractors supply them with employee information, to pass on to MSD for financial support.

While there was still a lot of uncertainty in a situation that was changing daily, it was a bit of light that could help some people feel better, she said.

Despite this, many employees in the forestry industry start next week with no work.

Some contracting companies have already stood down staff.

Industry workers spoken to by The Gisborne Herald did not want their names used.

Concern and confusion among workers

The owner of a logging and transport company says three drivers will lose their jobs because of insufficient work and uncertainty in the future.

“Our company is going to be 80 percent down on work from Monday,” the owner said.

“Is the Government going to financially support our business and many others, as they have in the crayfish industry?

Forestry owners had “pushed the button too quickly”.

Other ports who exported to China were still operating, and the owner wanted to know if the industry saw this coming, why wasn't there a plan in place?

“Can someone give the forestry industry and the community the facts?

“There are no alerts or updates on the Eastland Wood Council website. What is your purpose?”

A forestry crew foreman said he had men in his crew who were very concerned and confused, and already looking for work in other industries.

“The bills are still coming in on a weekly basis and need to be paid,” he said yesterday.

“We had no work today, and as far as we know no work on Monday. It is very unknown and very uncertain about what is going to happen next.

“It is a little unnerving especially since we just came out of the holidays so all the boys' holiday pay has been used up.”

A Gisborne logging truck driver said it was all a bit of a whirlwind.

“We have no clue what is happening. I think we are all hoping for the best. With the predicament of being off work for a few weeks to a month some of us will be finding part-time jobs elsewhere.”

Wednesday was their last day of work until further notice.

“I'll probably join the bandwagon of looking elsewhere for employment,” they said.

The city's foodbanks are expecting an increase in demand for their services in the wake of the logging industry situation.

Johnathan Pere, spokesman for East Coast Community Foodbank/Kaiti, approached The Gisborne Herald to say families in the industry were worried.

“I have listened to a few of our logging families who are devastated about what is happening with their livelihoods and how it will hurt their whanau,” he said.

“We are receiving inquiries from families who are anticipating not getting paid in the weeks ahead.”

Mr Pere said the foodbank would gratefully receive any donations.

Captain Kevin Waugh said the Salvation Army foodbank had not been approached, but “we have discussed the possibility of that happening”.

The Salvation Army was always willing to receive food donations, he said.

Another truck driver spoken to who had just landed a job training had been told his job was being postponed for two months.

“I'd barely started in the job and now I've been stood down for two months,” he said.

McInnes Driver Training Ltd owner John McInnes said some of the companies they worked with were keeping staff on and sending them to do training during the shutdown.

“Most of the clients we deal with are trying to hang on, and do some training so when they go back to work they will be upskilled.

“It is about keeping people employed — that's the main thing.

“This is a bit of a knock — everyone needs to tighten their belts and ride it out,” said Mr McInnes.

Another contractor said two of their crews were out of work until they knew what was going to happen.

“Our roading guys have about two weeks of work each left. Many of the guys don't have any annual leave either as we have just come out of the holiday season and that is all used up.

“It is going to have an enormous effect on the whole region. Most of our employees live up the Coast and forestry is the biggest employer.

“One of our logging truck drivers just started on Monday. We had just inducted him and we got the message from the forestry company that exporters had stopped buying the wood, so he only got a week of work.

“None of us knows how long it will go on for. It is very difficult. If it's short term they'll be all right but if it's long term that's a very different story.

“At this stage it really is a question mark.”

NO WORK MONDAY: Employment is still in doubt for many people in the logging industry next week. Despite a glimmer of hope that a main log exporter has said it will buy logs again from Tuesday, the price of logs continues to fall. File picture

  1. S Stanley, Wellington says:

    The crayfish industry is getting no financial support from government at all. But all sympathy to forestry in tough times.

    1. William Dobbs says:

      Unlucky Kentucky