Tem­po­rary life­line for Hey­field Mill

Fight con­tin­ues for bet­ter log quota and re­ten­tion of jobs

Australian Forests and Timber - - FRONT PAGE -

A1200-strong com­mu­nity meet­ing at Hey­field has sent a clear and un­equiv­o­cal mes­sage to the Vic­to­rian Govern­ment that Aus­tralian Sustainable Hard­woods' Hey­field Mill needs to stay open.

The Hey­field Mill is a mas­sive em­ployer in the area and if it closes the eco­nomic im­pact on the area would threaten the vi­a­bil­ity of the town and the com­mu­nity.

“Coun­cil is re­lieved that there are now dis­cus­sions oc­cur­ring be­tween the govern­ment and the own­ers of the mill in terms of try­ing to find a way for­ward. How­ever, we un­der­stand that, as yet, the Govern­ment hasn’t con­firmed that they will find the tim­ber sup­ply needed to en­sure the mill doesn’t close, nor have they com­mit­ted to as­sist­ing ASH tran­si­tion to plan­ta­tion tim­ber as a long-term so­lu­tion," said Welling­ton Shire Coun­cil Mayor Carolyn Cross­ley.

Un­der the cur­rent deal with State-owned log­ging com­pany VicForests, the mill re­ceives about 150,000 cu­bic me­tres of na­tive re­growth tim­ber each year; over the next three years it was only be­ing of­fered be­tween 60,000 and 80,000 cu­bic me­tres of tim­ber, which would make the busi­ness un­vi­able.

“The own­ers of the mill have con­firmed they will hold off on clo­sure for four weeks to give the Govern­ment time to try and find a so­lu­tion. Stop­ping the clo­sure of the Mill is a mat­ter for the Govern­ment and Agri­cul­ture Min­ster Jaala Pul­ford, but we are urg­ing them to work in a con­struc­tive and pos­i­tive man­ner so that the fu­ture of the mill can be se­cured.

"Now that ASH has met with the Min­is­ter, Coun­cil is also seek­ing a meet­ing with her, as well as the Pre­mier, so they are very, very clear what is at stake,” the Mayor said.

Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Pul­ford could not at­tend the meet­ing but said "all par­ties are com­mit­ted to work­ing in good faith".

How­ever, Mayor Cross­ley was adamant that the fight to keep the work­ers at Hey­field Mill in a job was far from over.

The tem­po­rary re­prieve was good news for the 250 staff who had been given a Septem­ber work dead­line un­less a work­able new log con­tract could be achieved.

Vir­tual eleventh-hour talks on 30 Jan­uary re­sulted in the fol­low­ing Min­is­te­rial state­ment:

"The Govern­ment has met with work­ers, their union the CFMEU, and Directors from Aus­tralian Sustainable Hard­woods and will work to­gether on op­tions for the fu­ture of the tim­ber mill in Hey­field.

"While this work con­tin­ues over the next four weeks, Aus­tralian

Sustainable Hard­woods has com­mit­ted to sus­pend steps to close the Hey­field mill.

"The meet­ing was con­struc­tive and fo­cussed on the need to iden­tify vi­able ar­range­ments for the mill which pro­tect lo­cal jobs, given re­duced tim­ber avail­abil­ity.

"All par­ties have com­mit­ted to work to­gether in good faith and with the nec­es­sary ur­gency through­out Fe­bru­ary."

In mid-Jan­uary Hey­field Mill staff had been told that as a re­sult of the failure of the Vic­to­rian Govern­ment to of­fer a vol­ume of tim­ber that would en­able the mill to con­tinue to op­er­ate, the mill would be clos­ing. Sig­nif­i­cant lay-offs would be­gin from Septem­ber.

“The only thing that will change this tra­jec­tory is if there is a new sup­ply agree­ment of­fered by the govern­ment that is re­spect­ful of our busi­ness needs," ASH CEO Vince Hur­ley said.

The of­fi­cial VicForests' stance was that the cur­rent ASH agree­ment could not be con­tin­ued.

"VicForests’ cur­rent con­tract with Aus­tralian Sustainable Hard­woods (ASH) ex­pires at the end of June 2017," said Nathan Trushell, act­ing CEO of VicForests..

"VicForests has no­ti­fied ASH that it can con­tinue to sup­ply tim­ber to the Hey­field mill but not at the same lev­els as in the cur­rent agree­ment.

"Im­proved mod­el­ling of the avail­able fu­ture tim­ber re­sources shows the level of sup­ply of ash tim­ber needs to be re­duced from the cur­rent lev­els. We are cur­rently in dis­cus­sions with ASH re­gard­ing a fu­ture sales agree­ment.

"Any fu­ture sales agree­ment of­fered to ASH will be based on lower sup­ply lev­els to en­sure this aligns with avail­able tim­ber re­sources.

"VicForests will con­tinue to meet its con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions with all of our con­trac­tors and cus­tomers," Mr Trushell said.

It's not just the Hey­field area that would be dec­i­mated by the clo­sure of the mill but it has been es­ti­mated there are 7,000 down­stream jobs that would be im­pacted by ASH’s clo­sure, mostly small com­pa­nies in Mel­bourne that use ASH’s prod­ucts, to­gether with all the sup­pli­ers of ser­vices and those in the tim­ber in­dus­try it­self.

Well over 1000 peo­ple at­tended the com­mu­nity meet­ing at Hey­field ... so many, in fact, that there was an over­spill to the out­side of the hall where hun­dreds more watched and lis­tened to pro­ceed­ings via tele­vi­sion.

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