ASH postpones decision ‘D-Day’

Employees at the Heyfield timber mill have another long week ahead after the company’s board postponed a decision on closure until next Thursday.

Australian Sustainable Hardwoods had slated Tuesday as ‘D-Day’ to make a call on its operating future after telling its workers in January the mill may be forced to shut down due to a reduced supply offer from VicForests.

ASH agreed to suspend closure talks through February to negotiate a supply deal with the State Government and VicForests, and on Tuesday night agreed to wait a little longer.

A statement from ASH said the decision was based on advice the State Government was close to reaching an outcome.

“We were advised that the government is close to a decision on being able to provide the necessary supply and conditions that could mean we remain open,” the statement read.

“We also understand that Daniel Andrews is personally committed to saving the jobs of these many workers.

“On the basis of Daniel Andrews’ commitment to our workers and the government being close to a positive decision, the ASH board has agreed to hold an extraordinary board meeting on 16 March.

“For the sake of our workers, our customers and the industry more broadly, we hope that Daniel Andrews is able to follow through on keeping our staff and the thousands of indirect, downstream and upstream workers in their jobs.”

The board also agreed to a request from worker and prominent mill advocate Anthony Wilkes to close the mill for a day to allow employees and the community to voice their concerns to government.

The hardwood saw mill, which employs about 250 people directly, was offered less than half its current supply level over the next three years when its long term contract expires at the end of June.

As part of negotiations ASH outlined a 25-year transition plan to evacuate 1939 Central Highlands state forest regrowth into less sensitive areas and eventually plantation.

Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford said since meeting with workers, the CFMEU and ASH in late January all parties had worked in “good faith” and with “urgency” throughout February.

“Discussions have been productive and have focussed on the need to identify viable arrangements for the mill which protect local jobs, given reduced timber availability,” Ms Pulford said.

“The Government has requested an additional seven days to continue their close work with the company and the ASH board has accepted this request.”