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Repost - Cyclone Gabrielle: Forestry workers’ union to discuss support plan with ministry

The union representing forestry workers will meet with the Ministry of Social Development on Thursday to develop a support plan for the Cyclone Gabrielle recovery.

First Union assistant general secretary Louisa Jones said nearly 500 workers were unable to work in areas which remained inaccessible or unstable.

She hoped the meeting would form the basis of a plan to help contractors until work could resume.

“On the coast, everybody has lost their jobs. The roads aren’t safe to get to the work, and even if they could by some miracle, they wouldn’t be able to carry out any work. The ground’s too soft to carry heavy loads, it’s just too dangerous to work in,” Jones said.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told RNZ’s Morning Report he could not rule out forestry companies being included as a part of the government’s $50 million support package announced on Monday.

Meanwhile, Tolaga Bay farmer Bridget Parker said out-of-work contractors had been turning up at her property to help clean up the damage after hectares of forestry slash and silt crashed into her kiwifruit orchard.

“The 30 people that turned up to help us have been told ‘there’s no work in the forests, the roads are gone, go to [the Ministry of Social Development] to get a handout’,” Parker said.

The Government needed to listen to the whenua of the area to make sure they were able to hand the land on to the next generation in a usable condition, she said.

There is palpable anger in flood-affected communities after Cyclone Gabrielle caused logs and silt to clog farms, rivers, and beaches for the third time in the last year.

Forestry Industry Contractors Association chief executive Prue Younger said the government, forestry owners, and contracting firms must work together to make the changes to reduce the impact of slash.

The cyclone could act as a turning point for industry practices, but not without government assistance, Younger said.

Some contractors would have lost their livelihoods this week, she said.

Deane and Sheree James said workers for their forestry contracting firm, Lumberjack Logging Limited, had been helping clear roads because they were not able to get into areas to log.

They said the close proximity of Cyclone Hale and Cyclone Gabrielle meant their days on the job in 2023 had been severely reduced.

“Things have barely recovered after the damage after Hale and then Gabrielle hit, so we’ve had 30-plus guys sitting at home, [but] some had had their homes effectively wiped out,” Deane said.

“We can go back to work now but we can’t ask them to come back to work, because they’ve got to sort out their own houses.”

Sheree James said the crash in the market after the pandemic and rising costs meant they were asking each other whether they could carry on nearly six months ago.

“It has been to the point of ‘why do we do this’ and I think Gabrielle may have kind of given us the decision,” Sheree said.

“We’re still trying to find a way to make it work but it’s pretty slim. A lot of the contractors here are pretty exhausted.”

Deane said social media had painted an ugly picture of the industry since floods in the region in 2018.

“No matter how much we contribute to an area like Gisborne we’re frowned upon. It’s almost not cool to help forestry, we’re not popular by a long shot,” he said.

Early this week, Forest Owners Association spokesperson Don Carson said the priority was to push to have access to forestry areas cleared so work could resume.

Communication issues in flood-affected areas were hampering the understanding of how many contracting firms were unable to work and how they might be able to contribute to the cleanup in the wider community, Carson said.

He would welcome an inquiry into the damage associated with slash during the cyclone, he said.

“It’s unfortunate that logs are more televisual than silt is and we accept that we are going to have to change our practices,” Carson said.