Timber mills across South Australia will fire back up after the state government decided to include forestry as an essential service. 

Key points:

  • A union leader says the 24-hour shutdown of SA’s forestry industry caused “massive disruption”
  • Structural timber shortage formed key part of discussions with government officials
  • Many workers feared they would lose income when the first decision was made

The billion-dollar industry was forced to shut down for about 24 hours after it was left off the list of essential services released yesterday.

It was a significant blow for the industry, which has been working to address the national shortage of structural timber available to the construction sector.

Key stakeholders worked around the clock to seek clarity on the issue, which was eventually provided by SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens at a press conference this morning.

The uncertainty also left thousands of forestry workers in limbo amid the state’s seven-day snap lockdown.

A close-up image of Police Commissioner Grant Stevens in his police uniform at a press conference in July 2020.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens held a press conference on Wednesday evening.(

ABC News: Lincoln Rothall

)

‘Abundance of clarity’

Commissioner Stevens said timber mills were considered to be primary industries.

“There was some concern about the impact of the direction, which was an earlier version of the direction that restricted timber mills from operating,” he said.

“We’re confident that they’re included under the current direction, but we will be providing an abundance of clarity to that sector.”

SA Forest Products Association chief executive Nathan Paine said the industry received written confirmation that operations could recommence.

“Our initial reading was – certainly for larger mills – that they wouldn’t be able to operate under these rules and there was a risk that we might not even be able to get harvesting activities occurring in the forest,” Mr Paine said.

“That was yesterday — today I’m really pleased to be able to say that the government has recognised the concerns of the industry and consumers of wood products.”

A man in hi-vis crouching in a timber plantation.

CFMEU union leader Brad Coates said timber workers were seeking clarification amid the uncertainty of the state’s lockdown.(

ABC South East SA: Todd Lewis

)

‘Massive disruption’

But the delay did come at a cost.

Green Triangle union official Brad Coates said the lack of clarity from the outset caused “massive disruption” to the industry.

“The two largest sawmills, OneFortyOne here in Mount Gambier and Timberlink in Tarpeena, they shut down, so it’s the cost of shutting everything down and sending everyone home to then have to start up the following day,” he said.

Mr Coates said he fielded several calls from workers who were wondering what was going to happen.

“Timber workers are pretty resilient and they are good at following instructions, but I just think there was a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

“There were parts of the industry with casuals and labour hire that weren’t going to get paid, so there was quite a lot of uncertainty and some pretty angry workers last night.”

With the construction industry forced to shutdown for seven days, Mr Paine said the structural timber shortage formed part of the discussion with the state government.

“Certainly the shortage was a big piece of the puzzle in terms of our conversations with government,” he said.

“We need to build up this inventory and these seven days will allow us time to do that.”

SA timber mills back in action after government changes essential service advice
Source:
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