On Thursday 4 August, an amendment introduced by the State Government to the Sustainable Forests Timber Bill has passed with the aim to ensure stronger penalties are faced by protesters who put timber workers’ safety and wellbeing at risk.
The Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022 will mean that protesters who illegally enter timber harvesting zones, which are small and restricted areas where forestry activities are being undertaken, and dangerously interfere with workers or their machinery, will face maximum fines of more than $21,000 or 12-months imprisonment.
The Upper House passed the amendment with a final vote count of 30 to five, with Victorian Labor and Coalition representatives both voting in favour despite opposition from the Greens and the Victorian Branches of the Maritime Union of Australia, the United Workers Union and Australian Services Union.
Former Minister for Agriculture Mary-Anne Thomas said when the bill was introduced in May that the government respects the right to protest safely but wants to make sure workers go home to their families each day.
“Every Victorian has the right to be safe at work. Protests are becoming increasingly dangerous – particularly for workers – which is why this legislation will support them to get on with their job and minimise disruption to the industry,” Ms Thomas said.
PVC and metal pipes, which can be used in dangerous protest activities, will be added to the prohibited items list meaning they potentially attract extra fines if used to hinder or obstruct timber harvesting operations.
Workplace Safety Minister Ingrid Stitt said the industry is already a dangerous environment.
“…And is sadly over-represented in serious incidents and fatalities. Every Victorian deserves to be safe at work, and these laws will strengthen protections for forestry workers,” Ms Stitt said.
To prevent repeated safety risks across multiple Timber Harvesting Safety Zones, Authorised Officers will be able to issue Banning Notices. The notices will aim to stop individuals from repeatedly engaging in dangerous activities in Timber Harvesting Safety Zones and other forestry coupe areas.
Authorised Officers will also be given additional powers to search containers, bags and vehicles for prohibited items.
Eildon MP Cindy McLeish said for too long our timber workers have been subjected to risky behaviour from illegal protesters.
“I’ve heard from workers about the enormous emotional toll this behaviour takes on them as they go about their legitimate work activity,” she said.
“This step, although five years too late, is good in supporting those workers.”
The Bill aims to bring the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 in line with other similar pieces of legislation such as the Wildlife Act 1975. For more information visit vic.gov.au/forestry.
CFMEU Manufacturing National Secretary Michael O’Connor said timber workers do not deserve to be treated as second-class citizens, and like every other worker in the Victorian economy, have the right to go to work and safely go about their job without fear of facing intimidation tactics.
“We support the right to peaceful protest, but we draw the line at workers being targeted with dangerous, dehumanising tactics like harassment,” he said.
“The Victorian Government has drawn a line in the sand against appalling tactics targeting workers, and they deserve credit for it.”