The Socialist 29 January 2020 |
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Interview with a forestry worker: Organise to improve conditions and tackle climate emergency
The environment is near the top of everyone's agenda currently, as it should be, due to the scale of the crisis that we face now and in the future.
Something that can be far from people's minds, however, is the day-to-day experiences of workers toiling on the land.
I spoke to a friend - a forestry worker and Unite union member - who talked anonymously about some of the pressing issues in his industry and what can be done about them.
"You typically have a quota of between five and 20 tonnes of timber a day. The job is completely manual - we don't use big harvester machines - so that's five tonnes done with just you and a chainsaw.
Its hard manual labour and you're out in the elements all day. I'm lucky, as me and my colleagues are on contracts, but the majority of forestry workers in the country are 'self-employed' much like construction workers. Most workers are employed through big companies and not directly by who they are working for.
Safety is one of the biggest issues for us all, in that health and safety practice doesn't really exist. Recently our boss proposed that we work in the dark and that to do so he would provide us with head torches in a bid to increase productivity!
When anyone works in the dark there are increased risks. Imagine it's been raining all day, there are branches and timber all over the ground and the fell goes wrong. Serious injury or death is around the corner. This can also happen during daylight hours.
My colleagues are not union members; it's not a done thing in this industry. However, I organised and spoke to workmates during a break. We all agreed that if the boss asked us to work like that at any time, we would walk off the job."
This shows how the basics of union work can be done, and clear and simple demands can lead to a growth of confidence amongst workers.
Trade unions, particularly Unite, should orientate resources into the industry to recruit and organise, to establish basic health and safety, and standards of pay and conditions.
If we are to tackle the climate emergency then we need skills, and these skills exist in this industry. With a unionised workforce in this sector we could firmly put on the agenda the planning of the environment, for workers and communities - not for the profit of the landowners.
Ben Mayor, York