CPSU and VicForests staff get together

VicForests staff and guests gathered in Newman Park, Traralgon last week. Photo: Contributed

Philip Hopkins

VICFORESTS staff and their guests, with the threat of unemployment hanging over their heads, gathered together with their trade union backers last week at a barbecue in Traralgon’s Newman Park.

Julian Kennelly, a spokesman for the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), which organised the event, said their VicForests members could not move on with life decisions while the state government obfuscates about the organisation’s future.

Gippsland VicForests staff, from Erica, Noojee to Sale and beyond, made up the bulk of the two dozen or so people who attended.

“The idea was to come together as a union community affected by the announcement on native timber harvesting, to discuss the impacts this was having on their ongoing work and the local impacts in their rural communities,” Mr Kennelly said.

“What do they tell their families, partners, children? Their mental health and well-being are being impacted from this extended uncertainty. The bulk of VicForests staff are based in regional Victoria where they are part of the fabric of their communities as volunteers with sports clubs, schools, kindergartens, the CFA, the Victorian State Emergency Service and other community groups”.

Mr Kennelly said several were members of Forests Fire Management Victoria. “They have been on the front line protecting their communities in events such as the 2019-2020 Black Summer and 2009 Black Saturday bushfires,” he said. One of the Traralgon attendees had worked in the native forest industry for more than 30 years, having been employed with the defunct Forestry Commission.

“VicForests staff are highly-trained as foresters and ecologists, having completed a broad range of qualifications and decades of experience in Victorian native forests developing harvesting strategies, conducting ecological surveys, regeneration and building strong relationships with their communities,” Mr Kennelly added.

Mr Kennelly said Victorian public service laws did not allow individuals to speak out, so they were effective ‘gagged’ from talking to the media. The attendees at Traralgon were just the tip of the iceberg, as VicForests has more than 160 staff whose interests had to be taken into account.

He had been surprised at the complete lack of planning in the government’s policy towards the native forestry industry. Mr Kennelly said the union had held talks with Labor’s local Upper House MP, Harriet Shing and the Minister for Agriculture, Gayle Tierney, but they had reiterated that internal work to close the industry was under way.

The CPSU plans to hold similar gatherings with VicForests staff in the Otways and the north-east.