Appeal for support in logging slowdown

Friday 6 Mar 2020

New Zealand's Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford was visiting Gisborne this week to see first-hand the impact of the coronavirus on the logging industry. A Stats NZ analysis revealed the coronavirus outbreak has cost about $300 million in lost exports to China in the past month, with the largest falls in meat, seafood, and forestry.

China's ports are at full capacity, causing significant disruptions to the supply chain in the forestry industry. That's of significant concern in Gisborne, where 85 percent of the region's logs are usually exported to China. Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said local firms were laying off employees or reducing their hours, and businesses that had big loans to purchase equipment were badly affected.

"We know in the next few weeks we might have as many as 400 employees affected. We see this going on for at least three more months." Regional leaders, the Ministry of Social Development and Trust Tairāwhiti were working together, and the mayor was now looking to the government for urgent support. "We will be asking how government can support us in a specific Tairāwhiti package".

She would urge government to try to keep workers in the region rather than the option floated last week to send forestry workers to conservation jobs in the South Island. "If the situation changes in a couple of months, or three months’ time, we need those workers on the ground, ready to work again."

Forestry Industry Contractors Association chief executive Prue Younger said at least 30 percent of contractors were without work and the numbers could increase this week. Younger said previous estimates that 1500 people could be without work now "probably on the low side", and the downturn could put 2500 people out of work.

Younger said many contractors on standby may lose their contracts this week. "We've had a workforce that's been out of work for the last two or three weeks. We're about to get another tranche I believe that will be finishing contracts this week. There needs to be access to benefits sooner rather than later," she said.

Last week the government refused a request from the forestry industry to scrap the benefit stand-down period for those finding themselves out of work because of the Covid-19 coronavirus. People affected by the economic fallout from Covid-19 can also apply for hardship payments.

Younger said the East Coast was one of the most affected areas but she hoped Twyford understood there were pockets around the rest of New Zealand were suffering as well.

Source: RNZ

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