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job losses


- g. green

This paper was compiled in order to ascertain the magnitude of job losses in the Tasmanian timber industry in the last decade, to investigate the causes of the job losses and to map out a framework to enable Tasmania's timber industry to become innovative, environmentally sound and rich in jobs.

Research into total job numbers in Tasmania's timber industry is not conclusive. Although the figure of 8,250 sourced from ABARE (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics) study has been widely quoted recently, the authors of the study cite significant relative sampling error in the statistics and comment that it is likely that some employees were counted twice. Hence it is believed that there are less than 8,000 employees in Tasmania's timber industry.

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) figures show falls in almost all Tasmanian timber industry employment categories since 1990. Jobs in manufacturing timber products have fallen by 4,020 jobs (from 7,450 to 3,430) since 1990. Much of the attrition in jobs has occurred in the pulp and paper industry to the tune of 1,875 jobs. The Regional Forest Agreement has also failed on jobs despite the assurances of politicians to the contrary. Since the first full year of operation after the implementation of the RFA (1998-99), employment in the major forestry sectors has fallen by 1,240 (from 6,650 to 5,410).

It is argued that while the Tasmanian state government seems to believe that, in allowing large industry to control our natural resources, it provides job security for those now employed in the timber industry, this is not the case. Neither is resource security provided for the small timber industries, which have managed to survive in spite of the challenges of technological change and the corporate dominance of the political economy of Tasmania. This problem is exemplified by the current rush to convert the remaining old growth forests in the timber production areas, which contains both mature eucalypts and diverse rainforest under-storey, into eucalypt regrowth, destined chiefly for woodchip or fuel production. The Regional Forest Agreement of 1997 acknowledged this problem to the extent of confirming the establishment of Special Timber Management Units in the northwest and southeast of Tasmania. However the contentious nature of these areas, the fact that the detail of their contents are unknown and the complexity of the arguments about their management in the present political climate give little cause for optimism. If present practice continues for another decade, there will be further falls in employment because the many small industries that depend on mature mixed native forest resources will be deprived of a large part of their resource, very large quantities of special species timber will be wasted and future opportunities will be lost. This will in turn have an adverse impact on the tourist industry, and on the success of the recently established idea of a Tasmanian "brand', which is the basis of the fastest growing sectors of the Tasmanian economy.

If we are to continue harvesting timber from mature native forests, we must shift to local value adding and downstream processing using small volumes of our world-class timber. This is the best chance of creating jobs from native forests on a sustainable basis. The improved benefit to the local community, together with the cessation of clearfelling in old-growth forests, might entitle Tasmanian timber to certification by the ecologically reputable and internationally recognized, Forest Stewardship Council. This would open up new export markets for Tasmanian timber products, which would be ethical, profitable and sustainable.

Ending clearfelling of old-growth forests will require the restructuring of approximately 325 jobs. Some of these can be diverted into transporting logs from regenerated coupes. Others could be employed in selective logging of specialty timber, which is more labour intensive. Alternatively people immediately affected by restructuring may be offered retraining packages in developing wood-skills industries such as boat building and furniture making and in development of alternative forest management practices. Such people would be well placed to capitalise on positions in new wood skills centres that use certified timber and focus on output of high quality distinctly Tasmanian products targeting niche markets.

Resources required for initial industry restructuring are envisaged to be in the order of $40 million, $30 million for retraining schemes and $10 million for machinery and timber license buyback schemes. This amount of money is a small price to pay given the funds ($71M) already allocated to Tasmania under the State's Regional Forest Agreement.

Following industry restructuring, a legitimate international reputation would soon be established for Tasmania as a centre of excellence in forest management, quality timbers and wood-skills centres. These are fundamental aspects in creating the building blocks of regional communities, new opportunity, economic self-reliance and sustainable population.

Graham Green
Timber Workers for Forests, Inc.

[Abstract published with permission of author - full article is available in pdf (109 KB)]

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