Timber workers hit by ‘double donuts’

Robert Walerczak says he and his Dormit mill colleagues face a tough Christmas.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

About 30 workers facing job losses at the Dormit timber mill in Dandenong South have protested outside Premier Daniel Andrews’s electorate office in Noble Park.

The workers handed out ‘double donuts’ symbolizing “zero jobs and zero logs” at the Princes Highway shopping strip on Thursday 25 November.

They say they may be stood down without pay as soon as next week due to a shortage of Victorian timber despite the State Government guaranteeing supply until 2024.

Dormit telecant operator Robert Walerczak says he and his workers face a bleak festive season, with the timber yard “pretty close to empty”.

“From what we’ve been told, the long and short of it is we’re done by next week.

“Coming into Christmas, everyone is supposed to be having a good time celebrating with family and friends.

“But we’re not sure we’ll have anything to come back to. It feels pretty helpless.

“We’ve had ebbs and flows before, but never this bad. We’ve never been facing closure.”

The workers’ union CFMEU says a shutdown would lead to a national pallet “crisis” disrupting delivery of Christmas goods and supermarket supplies such as food, alcohol and toilet paper.

“Without pallets, you can’t move goods. Pallets are critical for our economy and the transportation of goods,” CFMEU manufacturing national secretary Michael O’Connor said.

He called for the Premier to “urgently” legislate to ensure timber supply as well as to provide financial support to stood-down timber workers.

“Why should our members and their families suffer because the Government is stuffing it up?”

The timber shortage was due to an “unprecedented” number of Supreme Court injunctions lodged against VicForests’ harvesting from timber coupes, Mr O’Connor said.

Recently, environment groups such as Kinglake Friends of the Forest and Environment East Gippsland won injunctions to halt alleged improper logging in 27 Victorian forest areas.

Mr O’Connor called for the Government to legislate next week to prevent legal action against VicForests by third party litigants for “the sake of the Victorian economy”.

He said it should be up to regulators, not “ill-informed activists”, to manage VicForests and harvesters’ compliance.

Meanwhile Mr Walerczak worries also for the timber workers’ long-term futures.

With their unique “niche” skill-sets, it was uncertain where they could find alternative work, he said.

Under the State Government plan to phase out native forest logging, the reskilling of timber workers does not start until 2024.

“I’m going to keep my chin up and hope we have a job before I start looking elsewhere,” Mr Walerczak said.

A State Government spokesperson said forestry contractors affected by the litigation would be supported with stand-down payments.

The litigation was putting “additional strain” on top of world-wide timber supply challenges.

“The Andrews Labor Government is working with industry to ensure there is minimal disruption to production.”

According to the Government, there was unprecedented demand for timber driven by post-Covid activity in housing, renovations, DIY and retail markets.

The shortage in timber pallets was partly attributed to businesses keeping pallets rather than returning them for recirculation.