World countries – New Zealand

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Forestry minister David Carter has told unions representing beleaguered wood processing workers that in no circumstances will the Government agree to intervening in the currency market to give exchange rate support to the manufacturing sector.

The National Distribution Union called the meeting with Carter in Wellington to discuss what it called the “crisis” in the wood processing industry, in which around more than 1000 workers are estimated to have been laid off since the global financial crisis.

Also at the meeting at Parliament was a representative of the Engineering Manufacturing and Printing Union, the Wood Processors Association and a wood-processing company, which sought anonymity. It is understood to not be a New Zealand company.

Included in the six measures the NDA suggested the Government should take was reviewing the exchange rate and monetary policy.

Carter also ruled out a union recommendation the Government investigate the introduction of a lower domestic log price to enable wood processors to manufacture in New Zealand.

NDA general secretary Robert Reid said the current “crisis” was caused by the strong Kiwi dollar, demand for wood from China and India which is keeping global log prices high, resulting in log exports being more attractive to the market than selling them here and adding value. The continuing depression in the global new house building market has added to the problem.

NDA estimates 1129 workers have lost their jobs since 2008 but says the real figure could be twice that.
Reid said in response to an NDA recommendation that the Government re-introduce the nine-day fortnight scheme through Work and Income temporarily for the industry, Carter invited the union to put together a detailed proposal.

The Government needed to be convinced the scheme could be applied to one sector and would be temporary, Reid said.

Wood Processors Association executive officer Daniel Miles said his organisation, which represents companies, did not agree that the industry was in “crisis”. He referred to a statement it issued before Christmas, acknowledging tough times but expressing full confidence in the future of the sector.

The parties agreed to meet again mid-year after an industry study, assisted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, is completed and published.