5 May 2015

Low pay for forestry contractors questioned

7:34 am on 5 May 2015

The owner of a Māori forestry company says some contractors are not receiving proper rates of pay and contracts.

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Photo: 123RF

Many tāngata whenua work as contractors and the general manager of Kajavala Forestry said the low pay rates were causing many of them to leave the industry.

Forestry workers had been hit hard recently, with the redundancy of 200 workers at one of the country's largest forest contractors, Harvestpro, and a log transport business, Waimea Contract Carriers, being placed in voluntary administration last month.

The situation has been exacerbated by what the Forest Industry Contractors Association said was a continuing log jam in the Chinese market, leading to a sharp decline in the number of logs being harvested in New Zealand.

Jacob Kajavala of Tūhoe and Ngāti Kahungunu said the introduction of more rigourous safety measures had led to increased mechanisation.

He said investing in that capital had created millions of dollars worth of debt for forestry owners and put pressure on how rates are set and contract lengths.

"It's a significant change from what we've seen before, and questions need to be asked of the industry - there's so much more capital involved.

"It's a situation the Forest Owners Association share with us - it will come back and bite them on the bum if we have high quality contractors deciding enough's enough and leave the industry in significant numbers. This needs to be addressed."

Mr Kajavala believed the forest companies that were not backing their workers with proper term contracts and rates were damaging the business.

"Some run very responsible businesses, some do not. Some are looking to the long term survival of their contractors and supporting them to invest, other companies are not - so there's a range, but it's certainly the ones that aren't supportive, or aren't backing their contractors with proper term contracts and proper rate movements, they're the ones that are introducing risk into this industry.

"And most importantly our people don't need that. Most of my workers are Māori. Forestry is a brilliant industry and gives people a great entry point into employment.

"We do this in rural communities so ensuring that the industry is viable and strong is very important."

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