Puzzling package

File photograph



THE Nationals have labelled Labor’s forestry compensation package an insult, demanding the Allan Labor government immediately head back to the drawing board.

Speaking in state Parliament, the Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, labelled the package as “seriously flawed” stating it “denied timber harvest and haulage operators the fair compensation they deserve”.

“The package is a dud and shows displaced harvest and haulage contractors and their workers are not Labor’s priority. It is riddled with unknowns and inequities which fail to deliver industry workers a fair deal,” she said.

Ms Bath, who is also the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Public Land Use, said the state government had fast-tracked closure of Victoria’s sustainable native timber industry, stripped workers of their livelihood and now “we see it is planning to dupe contractors”.

“Labor’s offer is a disaster and requires serious refinement,” she said.

Ms Bath called out the state government for ignoring industry proposals.

“Criticism has been levelled at the capping of compensation pay outs and forcing employers to bear additional worker training and redundancy costs,” she said.

“Labor has also reserved the right to pay less than the calculated value for equipment buy-backs to fit the funding cap.

“The Labor government has in effect created a glorified grant stream where harvest and haulage contractors are competing against each other in a capped pool for the limited funds available.”

Ms Bath has also argued in Parliament about the inadequacy of haulage and harvest compensation.

“They will be compensated for the loss of income, but it is unjust, unfair and lacking,” she said.

For machinery compensation, the government will pay the difference between the 2020 market value and the auction value today.

“However – and this is the kicker – the department has the right in this proposed draft to decide that if they do not want to meet that difference, they just will not,” she said.

“The bottom line is this draft compensation is about budget, not fair compensation.

“If they do not want to pay that difference, the government has the right not to. It is capped and it is unfair.”

In relation to redundant employees – “people who work for the contractors who are now going to go onto the unemployment line” – Ms Bath said the government maintained these redundant employees would receive 10 days of training.

“But who would pay for that? Who do you think should pay for that? Well, we think the government should pay for it, but in actual fact the government is lumping that responsibility back onto the contractors, the employers, who are now being made redundant themselves – so, yes to training but no to the forest contractors, who are now going to have to pick up the tab,” she said.

Nationals Member for East Gippsland, Tim Bull, told Parliament the compensation package was unfair.

“The compensation for loss of income is absolutely woeful. It would have been far better to work off the precedent that was set for the Gippsland Lakes commercial fishermen where they were given three years of their average income as a base for their departure package before they got into their nets,” he said.

“I guess the comparison to timber workers is their machinery, but as a base it was three years of their average income.”

After The Nationals challenged the Premier in question time on Thursday, the Member for Morwell, Martin Cameron, said one positive was, the Premier, Jacinta Allan, had agreed to meet with the Forest Contractors’ Association to discuss the details of the package.

“This is a step in the right direction,” he said.

“However the package needs to change significantly as it falls well short.”

Ms Bath reiterated the need to secure an agreement within the next few weeks to allow hardworking families to make informed decisions.

“Like my Nationals colleagues, I’ve been working with impacted timber industry families for the long haul,” she said.