20 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: Redeployment starts for East Coast forestry workers

12:08 pm on 20 March 2020

The government has allocated $100 million to help redeploy workers affected by Covid-19 with those in the Gisborne-Tairāwhiti region the first to be helped.

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Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The package will see workers redeployed into local alternative employment for the next three to six months, with $28m going to Tairāwhiti to help redeploy almost 300 workers.

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford said Covid-19 was having a significant impact on workers throughout New Zealand.

"Nowhere more than on forestry workers in Tairāwhiti.

"Forestry was one of the first industries to be seriously impacted by Covid-19 but by keeping the infrastructure and workforce of the sector intact, we hope it will be one of the first to recover."

The alternative work on offer includes local roading work and maintenance, hazardous tree removal, fast-tracked One Billion Trees projects, conservation activities and retraining and educational opportunities.

The Tairāwhiti package will be administered through the Provincial Development Unit in partnership with the Mayors' Forum and Gisborne District Council.

Affected workers will be referred via the Ministry of Social Development's Rapid Response Team and affected businesses.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said the forestry sector was only just recovering from a slowdown over last winter.

"Many small firms used their cash reserves to get them through that and some companies are now struggling to survive," Jones said.

"However, the future for the forestry sector is extremely bright and we want to ensure it is in a position to recover from the economic impacts of Covid-19 as quickly as possible."

Tairāwhiti's wood processing sector is also getting support from the Provincial Growth Fund with a $12.1m loan for WET Gisborne Ltd.

The funding will accelerate the development of its production line, which will produce a laminated structural wood product.

Jones said it would help diversify the forestry sector which he said was "overly reliant on log exports to China".

A PGF loan of $980,000 towards the Wood Cluster Heat Plant has also been approved.