Thursday, 29 May 2008 8:00 AM

Thousands May Loose Jobs in Logging Sector

Thousands of logging workers would lose their jobs if the Labour Department accepts application for redundancies submitted by about sixteen logging companies, according to the Secretary of the Solomon Forest Association (SFA), Kaipua Tohibangu.

Tohibangu said that at least sixteen (16) companies have given notice to the Commissioner of Labour to lay off nearly three thousand five hundred (3500) workers as many foresee a rise in the cost of operation due to the increase in determined price for logs.

He said that thirty-two (32) logging companies, including many of the country's major logging companies, are also protesting against the increase in the rate of the determined value of log exports.

Tohibangu however, denies that loggers are planning to stock pile logs as part of plans to pressurize the Government over the new rates for the determined value of logs used in the calculation of export duties.

Instead, he said, some of the loggers are threatening to close down over the issue. He said that the loggers are unhappy that government consultations with them were not yet concluded when the Government went ahead with the increase in the rates of determined price.

The loggers are claiming that because the logging industry in Solomon Islands is relatively small compared to PNG, the Solomon Islands loggers had little choice but to adopt market prices determined by the PNG logging industry.

The petition was signed by 32 logging companies which are members of SFA, which includes Earthmovers Group of Companies, the largest in the Solomon Islands logging industry.

Tohibangu said that the new rates have made their operations on the ground much more expensive leading to the decision by about half of the 32 companies that signed the petition to have made some of their workers redundant.

He said the loggers have also been affected by the weak dollar and the current dramatic rise in fuel price which goes up almost daily is also impacting very badly on loggers' operational costs.

He said that the Government should have fully consulted the logging companies over the rate review because any review of the rates would only be fair if it fully accommodates operation costs on the ground.

The Labour Department confirmed yesterday afternoon having received applications for redundancies from logging companies, but would not specify how many.

A source within the Department however said that the Department needs to assess them to make sure that they are genuine and not part of a political move in their current dispute with the Government over its decision to increase the rates used to calculate log exports.