Concern over Walcha mill closure

BORAL workers at Herons Creek voted not to accept timber that would have been processed in Walcha.
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Mill workers in Walcha were told two weeks ago operations would be suspended and offered jobs elsewhere or redundancy.

Over 60 members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Energy Union voted against processing timber from Walcha at a meeting in Herons Creek last Wednesday in a show of support for their workmates west of the Great Divide.

“All members at the sites left are feeling very concerned about their job security working for Boral,” said CFMEU Forestry and Furnishing Products Division NSW State secretary Craig Smith.

Mr Smith said the decision to close the Walcha mill has been widely condemned and is seen by the timber industry as potentially jeopardising the Regional Forest Agreement process.

This process, Mr Smith said, between the timber industry and the State Government as custodians of forests, guaranteed a supply of timber to the industry for 20 years. He said the government also invested in the timber industry financially, with the Walcha mill being one of the sites to receive money to purchase new equipment.

“Workers in these mills thought that the spending would mean a certain amount of job security, but that doesn’t seem to be a factor in Boral’s decision to close,” Mr Smith said.

“It’s a concern that public money can be spent assisting businesses and then a decision to close a mill can be made by a business in receipt of this money.”

Mr Smith said last week’s vote in Herons Creek was significant in sending a message to Boral expressing the workers’ disappointment the forestry agreement can be treated “in this way.”

Mr Smith said road users who travel the Oxley Highway to Walcha should be concerned as logs that would normally be processed in Walcha would still be landed at the mill before being sent on to Herons Creek, putting extra logging trucks on the winding road.

“Under the wood supply agreement contract, the company has allocation of approximately 22,000 cubic metres of logs per annum. That would be the potential amount of freight crossing that road.

“We’ve not honed in on that issue yet,” Mr Smith said.

“We’re seeking to apply pressure to Boral to reverse its decision on Walcha. The NSW government as custodian of the timber supply need to give Boral an ultimatum on Walcha or surrender the agreement.

“If Boral is allowed to get away with transferring the timber elsewhere clearly the government needs to revisit the contract agreement with the timber industry and the purpose of it to provide job security.”

Boral blamed cost increases and the continued downturn in the housing market for the closure of the Walcha mill. The closure comes a month after Boral’s decision to close their south Grafton mill.

A Boral spokeswoman said meetings were continuing about issues surrounding production at Walcha and it was too early to comment further.

Mr Smith said peaks and troughs in the market were regular patterns in the industry and no other company were making the same decisions as Boral.

“Ordinarily the industry would seek to cut costs and the easy way out is to reduce labour, retrench workers. If Boral’s decision is based on market conditions we would see the reduction of production and workers but we’re not seeing that anywhere else. Boral are offering the workers jobs in other mills, growing their workforce numbers. Only two of the 23 workers at Walcha wish to take those positions at other facilities.

We’re not seeing other timber businesses closing or reducing their workforce. It strikes us as surprising that they used that as an excuse.”

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