Forestry industry facing 'perfect storm' of skyrocketing demand, dire staff shortages, sawmill boss says

The forestry industry is facing a ''perfect storm'' of skyrocketing demand and being unable to meet its staffing needs.

A shortage of employees due to COVID-19 illness and border-related worker shortages has meant a decrease in productivity around the country. Overall, the industry's productivity has plummeted 25 percent in the past decade.

Jeff Tanner, the managing director of Pukepine Sawmills, said he ideally needed 30 more staff to get back to "business as usual".

On Friday, the situation came to a head and the sawmill could not operate due to the shortages.

"We've been short-staffed for years and usually we use temporary workers to fill in," Tanner told AM on Tuesday. "We're suffering, I guess, with a lack of temporary workers that are available to help fill gaps when we haven't got people."

Tanner told host Ryan Bridge some temporary employees they get can't handle the work.

"Some of those people have been so long-term unemployed that they just can't work. We'll get people that turn up - they don't even last a day, at times, because they just can't get their head around the fact that it's physical work.

"Now and again, we'll get somebody that just disappears at smoko and they don't come back."

Forestry industry facing 'perfect storm' of skyrocketing demand, dire staff shortages, sawmill boss says
Photo credit: Getty Images

The Government needed to address border restrictions earlier and get desperately needed workers into New Zealand, he said. While restrictions have eased this year, Tanner said it has been "too little, too late".

Tanner said COVID isolation rules had also compounded the issue - but the industry was unlikely to get any reprieve from those rules. Grant Robertson, the Deputy Prime Minister, said they were unlikely to change anytime soon. 

"We continue to believe that the isolation period is a really important part of limiting the spread of COVID," he told AM.

Currently, infected people and their household contacts have to isolate for seven days - with only certain essential industry workers able to test to return to work.