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Future of Work for New Zealand’s Forestry and Wood Processing: Much more than logs

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A symposium to start a discussion on the future of work in forestry and wood processing has shown New Zealand is sitting on a mountain of un-tapped opportunity.

The problem is, New Zealand is missing out on an incalculable amount of wealth due to exporting commodities as raw materials, instead of producing a wider range of products before exporting, and this is especially true for the forestry and wood processing sector.FIRST Union’s Forestry & Wood Processors Symposium 2018 was attended by Union members, delegates and officials, Green Party leader Marama Davidson and Labour list MP in Tauranga Jan Tinetti. The symposium also hosted a panel of industry leaders including WPMA’s Dr. Jon Tanner, Refining NZ Chief Executive Mike Fuge, Professor Göran Roos from Intellectual Capital Services and Greenpeace Executive Director Dr Russel Norman.While Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has indicated a drastic reduction in the exportation of raw logs is needed, attendees agreed there doesn’t seem to be an existing policy in place to achieve this. Wood Processing and Manufacturing Association (WPMA) Chief Executive Dr. Jon Tanner says by their estimates around 38 local jobs are lost every time a ship leaves a New Zealand port with raw logs on board. Dr Tanner also made renewed calls for a manufacturing plan to process more in New Zealand before exporting.FIRST Union Divisional Secretary Jared Abbott says the symposium was a great success and the first of its kind to include genuine engagement with workers across the industry.“There was a lot of information shared that was very helpful especially in relation to a Just Transition. We had a very open and cohesive discussion, all groups listened to the concerns of each other and there was an obvious want to hear the concerns of others.”Mr Abbott says while the future looks bright, it’ll need backing from the Government.“The amount lost from wages alone this far would be insurmountable. It doesn’t make sense that we import logs for the Christchurch rebuild while we’re closing down saw mills at the same time, it’s just not logical. We need to breathe new life into the regions through adding as much value to our resources as possible before these products are sold. This is how we can bring jobs into the sector and into the regions with focus placed on apprenticeships to ensure safety and up-skilling is at the forefront of these changes, especially as automation becomes more prevalent.”“The Government should have wood procurement policies for the economy to benefit from opportunities like Kiwibuild and the necessities in the Christchurch rebuild to assist the industries with the economies of a scale that’s globally competitive.”Professor Göran Roos says the mining industry is already going through the growing pains that come with automation and forestry is next.“What we know from mining is that robotics and automation reduces injury but decreases the operational jobs and increases technological jobs.”Professor Roos says many jobs could be created if New Zealand realised its full potential. He listed un-tapped markets such as those for biofuels, ethanol, hydrogen, food-flavouring, textiles, garments and cosmetics that New Zealand could provide for if the industry had the processing plants in place to do so. He says cellulose based bio plastics could bring in 600 times the value of the original log it’s manufactured from and he placed emphasis on the need for New Zealand to become a product producing country rather than solely a commodity producing country.

“No country has ever become rich on selling raw materials, and if it does, it doesn’t last, you need to add value... it’s commodity versus product producing.”

  • Source: A FirstUnion release