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“Sawmill crippled” in Queensland [Islands Business, October 2010]


This was the headline in a news item on September 14 2010 by John McCarthy, of Brisbane’s The Courier Mail.

Who cares, you may ask?

Well, Pacific Island workers should.

As should any sawmilling company in the Pacific which is thinking of expanding their operations and will need trained skilled staff in the future.

Queensland offers not only well-paying saw-milling jobs which may be acquired by Christmas of this year, but could provide valuable training for the sawmills that are cutting down forests in Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and PNG, and the companies that want to process this timber.

This is an ongoing opportunity which keeps going begging-  because leaders of the Pacific countries are unable to convince Australia (and NZ) to open up their labour markets to Pacific Island labour.

Queensland sawmills in deep trouble

This is what the news item by John McCarthy said.

The General Manager (Sean Gribble) of a sawmilling company (NK Collins Industries) said he could employ 100 more staff by Christmas but he might attract only 10 or 15 Australians.

Gribble was “desperate for the Federal Government to relax visa restrictions to allow in foreign workers- despite having to pay up to $10,000 for each worker to fly them to Australia, pay for the visa and train them…. If we can’t get some overseas labour in to help by Christmas we will be forced to shut all the mills and scale back the Towoomba processing operation”.

McCarthy noted that NK Collins had already shut its Augathella and the Mungallala mills.

For the Australian saw millers, the problem was the Australian mines, which were going through a boom period.

Gribble complained that while the sawmills were prepared to pay A$35,000 to A$40,000 for unskilled workers, the Australian mines were prepared to pay $100,000 for truck drivers. Even Australian fruit pickers were heading for the mines, he complained.

And the Federal Government was not acting fast enough to place sawmills on the list of skill shortages for which foreign workers could be allowed in.

Similar sentiments were expressed by the CEO of Timber Queensland Rod McInnes.

Unemployed PIC labour

What an irony.

In PICs like Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, there are thousands of potential labourers who are unemployed.

Even if they worked in sawmills in the Pacific, they would earn at most F$7000 per year,  which is about A$4,000.

The saw mills in Australia are willing to pay A$35,000 to $40,000, or more than F$65,000 per year.

Fiji sawmills are also about to go through a very large expansion programme in timber milling as the cutting of the large mahogany forests gets under way on a much larger scale than over the last ten years.

These sawmills and the down-stream processing factories are going to require hundreds of skilled workers.

What better way to train them then to get them to Queensland at the Australian employers’ expense; be trained at Australian expense to work on modern saw-mills and processing factories, while being paid a wage eight times that in Fiji.

They Pacific Island workers could easily save a third of that to send home in remittances (provided they don’t get caught by the Australian beers and sheilas).

And these workers would acquire extremely valuable skills which would be needed to drive the expansion of the timber milling and processing industries in the Pacific in the future.

And the bonus for Australia would be that the Queensland sawmills and processing factories would not have to close down.  They might even become importers of Pacific milled and value-added timber.

This is a tremendous “win-win” situation for all concerned.

Of course, the federal authorities in Australia could ease up on visas as part of their “aid programme” to the Pacific.

But it would be far more useful and constructive if the Australian federal authorities saw this as an essential part of their economic and trade relations with the Pacific, providing mutual benefits, while having the potential to greatly facilitate the PACER Plus negotiations and processes that are around the corner.

It is all up to the new federal government in Australia.

In the mean-time, the sawmills in Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and PNG  (and any company engaged in facilitating work visas for Australia) might like to get in touch with “Timber Queensland”    Google this

or “NK Collins Industries”

Why not also examine if Pacific Island truck drivers can be heading for the Australian mines which offer A$100,000 per year (F$150,000)?

Hey, with that wage rate, USP academics could very well throw away their PhDs, obtain  certificates in truck-driving, and head for the Australian mines.

Now, which educational institution in the Pacific provides truck-driving certificates acceptable in Australia?


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