70,000 Timber Workers Lose Jobs In 20yrs

ALHAJI INUSAH FUSENI MINISTER OF LANDS AND NATURAL RESOURCES (1)ABOUT 70,000 timber workers in the country have lost their jobs following the collapse of over 60 major wood processing companies( sawmills) between 1994 and 2014, due largely to high cost of production, Mr Joshua Ansah, General Secretary of the Timber and Wood Workers Union has disclosed.

The affected firms, he said, included A.E Saoud Company Limited, Omega Limited, Prima Woods Company Limited, Western Veneer and Lumber Company Limited(WVLC) and Scanstyle Limited(Mim), hinting that,” More are following suit with many jobs being lost in the industry everyday because of the redundancy option adopted by the remaining few surviving companies to reduce cost.

Painting a rather gloomy picture of the timber industry , Mr. Ansah said, the industry which used to employ over 100,000 workers in the 1980s directly and over two million people indirectly and contributed about 6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is dying fast due to the inability to recover investments.

Condemning recent calls for stumpage fees to be increased by the Forestry Commission, Mr. Ansah emphasised that, “It will be in the national interest to reduce cost of timber processing and keep jobs than to add up to the already existing high production cost and kill the remaining firms which are creating jobs”.

Additionally, he said, the government must endeavour to find a lasting solution to the erratic power supply which was negatively affecting the operations of timber firms.

He was reacting to a recent publication by the Forest Watch, an environmental non-governmental organisation, which claimed that the Forestry Commission lost 16 million US dollars of forest revenue due to the commission’s inability to increase stumpage fees over the past 10 years.

Noting that there were two groups of timber operators in the country, the general secretary explained that, “There exist the registered legal operators who create and offer employment to many Ghanaians in addition to paying various forms of revenue to the state on one hand, and the unregistered and illegal operators on the other hand, who steal large volumes of timber and pay no revenue to the state”.

Currently, he said, “The genuine timber companies face numerous challenges including inadequate raw materials, poor supply of energy, payment of high utility bills and numerous forest fees as well as the difficulty in honouring statutory financial obligations”.

The cost of doing timber business especially, processing to add value to timber products, MrAnsah noted, had increased significantly while prices of the products had remained static, pointing out that “this situation has been deteriorating progressively over the past 10 years leading to the collapse of many wood processing companies”.

He submitted that “What Forest Watch needs to know is that the Forestry Commission is not getting increased revenue from stumpage fees because fewer trees are being harvested out of the number of harvestable trees allocated to the legal operators and more importantly, most of the harvestable trees are of low commercial value and cannot be processed due to high cost of production”.

“In short, we need to tell Ghanaians that the decline in revenue to government is due more to the current low commercial value of the trees in our forests and illegal chainsaw milling but not the inability to adjust stumpage fees upwards,” Mr. Ansah stated

He claimed that “Legal chainsaw millers are removing a higher amount of three million cubic metres of timber than is legally allocated to the registered timber companies and do not pay any stumpage fees or forest rent and asked Forest Watch to re-direct its focus to campaigning against the production, sale and use of chainsaw lumber in the country”.

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