Vic sawmill on the brink, staff blindsided

A sawmill’s sudden warning that it might close with the loss of 160 jobs in the Latrobe Valley is an “act of bastardry”, the CFMEU says.


Carter Holt Harvey is consulting with workers about the “possible closure” of its mill in Morwell, which is facing a reduced supply of sawlogs because of the Black Saturday and 2014 bushfires.

The company says fires since 2003 have burnt 15 per cent of supplier Hancock Victorian Plantations’ pine estates and new trees will take at least 28 years to mature.

Employee Julie Smith, a single parent, burst into tears when asked about her job prospects in the region.

“Where am I going to get a job? Where is any of us going to get a job?” she told Channel Nine from Morwell on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re all competing against one another and competing against Hazelwood.”

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union says the announcement came as a “bolt out of the blue” despite the company knowing for some time its timber supplies were uncertain.

“We think the way they’ve conducted themselves demonstrates the company is ruthless and we are calling for urgent talks,” Michael O’Connor, CFMEU National Secretary said.

“The company is heartless the way they’ve gone about this. They’ve hidden the problem. It’s like being hit by a train that’s coming at you at one mile an hour.”

The union says CHH has breached its industrial obligations by failing to formally notify the union before announcing an impending closure.

CHH says a final decision hasn’t been made but at this point the mill isn’t “viable into the future”.

“The absolute priority of CHH is to work closely with employees to ensure the best possible outcome for all staff,” chief executive Geoff Harvey said.

“We are distressed by our predicament and more importantly, are extremely conscious of the distress of our workers whose livelihoods are now uncertain and threatened.”

The company says if it does close, it will seek to “redeploy staff where possible”.

The Andrews government says it’s “deeply disappointed” but has been told by the company it may be “unavoidable” given the poor sawlog quality.

Minister for Regional Development Jaala Pulford said the government would work with Carter Holt Harvey to ensure every effort to connect impacted workers to support services.

The CFMEU says it’s likely the company will close and make its workforce redundant in August or September.

The union is seeking a meeting with the company to discuss the timetable.