AUSTRALIAN Sustainable Hardwood's Heyfield timber mill workers were finally given some relief after months of uncertainty, with the state government and Hermal Group on Monday morning announcing they have reached an agreement on the sale of the mill.
In a statement released by Regional Development Minister Jaala Pulford, the state government confirmed it had reached an agreement with ASH shareholders to buy the Heyfield timber mill.
Both parties had come to an in-principle agreement on the sale of the mill, subject to due diligence checks, and were committed to finalising the sale before the end of this month.
Ms Pulford made the announcement at a doorstep at Federation University, Churchill, yesterday morning, but did not visit Heyfield.
A statement released by ASH confirmed while Hermal Group was not in a position to disclose the details on the terms of the sale, there would be no job losses while contractual negotiations were finalised until the end of July.
Hermal Group director Clinton Tilley said owner Ron Goldschlager had put staff first by agreeing to the proposal.
"Ron hopes that the confirmation of the sale to the Andrews Government will provide workers, their families and the wider community with much needed certainty," he said.
"The owners would also like to acknowledge the efforts of the CFMEU, the Committee for Gippsland, the local council, and most importantly our staff and the local community over the past five months."
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union divisional president of forestry and finishing products division Jane Calvert said the union's members, families and community would rest easier knowing that the threat of mill closure that had been hanging over their heads since January has now been lifted.
"The union has worked closely with both the Hermal Group and the Victorian Government to get this outcome," she said.
"It is a bold move for a government to buy a sawmill and a huge decision for the Hermal Group to agree to sell their asset.
"The decision is in the best interests of workers and the community, but of course our work is not finished.
"We have secured an interim wood supply for the mill and we have improved the safety net for workers, so we now have breathing space.
Ms Calvert maintained it did not matter who owned the mill, but it still needed a long term wood supply.
"We will now seek urgent talks with the government in order to secure a future wood supply for our members across the industry in Victoria, including our members at the Heyfield mill.
"CFMEU members at the Heyfield mill send thanks to all those across Victoria who have supported us and stood by us this year.
"On behalf of Heyfield workers, families and our communities, we are deeply grateful."
Committee for Gippsland chief executive Mary Aldred welcomed the agreement in principle, saying it would provide some certainty to the Heyfield and broader community, but said it was a priority for the government to provide some clarity around job numbers, particularly with the annual 80,000 cubic metre VicForests timber allocation in mind.
"I understand some other employers in the region have been approached by some Heyfield workers already, and that the workforce is about 20 employees down from the start of the year just through attrition," she said.
"It's really important for the workers of the mill, for Heyfield, and for broader Gippsland, that there is certainty on job security."