Timber workers left destitute

Timber workers left destitute

Minister for Agriculture, Jaclyn Symes, has again refused to meet with seven Far East Gippsland timber contractors and save their jobs.

Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, said she was appalled at Minister Symes’ lack of compassion when she called on her to meet with haulage and harvest operators during question time last week.

“For months I have been calling on the minister to meet with and listen to the plight of these workers,” Ms Bath said.

“These contractors are locked in loans conditional with their government contracts but have been denied the resource and ability to work.

“The reality is 115 Gippsland families are directly impacted.

“With no income, these harvesters are forking out in excess of half a million dollars in repayments and$100,000 in insurance bills each month.”

When questioned, Minister Symes dismissed the harvesters’ dire financial position, stating, “they are no worse off”.

“Minister Symes is out of touch and her words were a kick in the guts,” Ms Bath said.

“I am seriously concerned about the mental wellbeing of these harvesters, their workers and their families.

“Only last week a distressed harvester wrote to me, stating ‘I am bleeding money and employees and do not know how much longer I can hang on’.

“At a time when the Victorian economy is slipping into recession and haemorrhaging jobs, Labor should be saving jobs not sacrificing people.

“Although burnt, the resource is available for harvest, yet Minister Symes is ring barking the industry.”

When Ms Bath challenged Minister Symes to meet with the seven harvesters, she responded, “you wouldn’t know how difficult it is… to be a minister and other things”.

Ms Bath said Minister Symes needs to recognise how hard it is to be an out of work timber harvester, with a government contract delivering zero income.

“I will keep fighting for this sustainable industry and work to protect these regional jobs,” she said.

Earlier this month, local timber harvester, Rob Brunt, said he could see workers leaving not just the industry, but the region, too, earlier than may have been necessary.

“It means we’ll all be out of a job,” he said. No longer able to salvage timber from the roadsides after the fires, timber harvesters are unable to do a thing.

“The worst bit is we have no date to know when we can get back to work,” Mr Brunt said.

“We don’t know what to do. Our workers don’t know what to do. We can’t tell them, for example, that we can get back to work on July 1, or some other set date. And that’s got nothing to do with COVID-19, it’s because we’re not being given access to coupes. The court decision will make that even harder.

“Our workers are wondering if they should get another job, move away, or stay here. I understand and I don’t blame them whatever they decide to do. They’ve got bills to pay like everyone else. The longer it drags out, our workers will have to make the decision. They can’t wait for the government to make a decision.”

IMAGE: Member for Eastern Victoria, Melina Bath, and Far East Gippsland timber harvester, Rob Brunt, are calling on Minister for Agriculture, Jaclyn Symes, to meet with workers and save their jobs. (PS)