Loggers lockdown blues

By: Patrick Cox, Photography by: Supplied


Deals on Wheels writer Patrick Cox speaks with a log truck driver on how he handled the lockdown blues

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What incredible times New Zealand has experienced. I don’t think there would be many left alive who survived the Spanish Flu, so this pandemic was an experience that was new to nearly all New Zealanders.

I have to say many took all this a little lightly, not having lived through anything like this in their lifetime. Did they not think this was a serious threat to our economy and would ultimately affect us all?

I spoke with a log truck driver and his family on how they handled the lockdown blues and what they did to combat it. Because it came with just two days’ notice, nobody knew what to expect, and for this family, immediately going from working 60 to 70 hours a week to nothing was a huge shock.

The driver’s wife had a part-time job bringing in around $400 a week and combined with his wages of around $1200 a week, this all plummeted overnight to just over $600, which included the wage subsidy.

With rent at $400 and careful grocery shopping for four, the bit leftover went on bills and with a bit of meat supplied by family, they’ve come out the other end reasonably okay, but not without a large degree of stress and angst I’m sure.

The wife did have a plan for the kids; it would be so easy to just let them sit in front of the television watching movies and playing video games, but they had allocated hours for numerous indoor and outdoor activities.

Luckily, they have a large section. In these modern times, sections have become smaller and houses bigger, limiting space outside to kick a ball and chase the dog around. Perhaps space limitation is why so many people broke their bubble space.

The log truck driver spent $23 dollars a month on a maths and an English app to help with homeschooling. He says he and his wife are thankful to have come to the end of lockdown managing to hold their own and not having to catch up on bills.

They enjoyed the family time and even on a reduced income looked at it as a holiday at home and have come through this with flying colours, only to be thrown back into the deep end at the start of Level 3, ramping straight back into 60 to 70 hours a week work.

Due to the log port not operating to capacity, what would take normally an hour at the port tally office, coupled with unloading delays, turned each stop into a two-and-a-half-hour exercise.

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I’m told the second week saw the port operating again, but all this downtime has a cost, and moving forward, the country needs to minimise these inefficiencies as fast as possible. I also spoke with a logging contractor with a family of five who lives on a lifestyle block and asked them how they managed for the duration of the Level 4 lockdown.

They say things were certainly better when Level 3 came in, but like the log truck driver and his family, a two-day notice for Level 4 restrictions was not a lot of time to prepare fully. Fortunately, they did have time to get a machine on their property and carried out maintenance and a paint job during the lockdown.

They tell me, as a family, they have come through this okay but like many others, had to adjust quickly to the new normal. Their oldest daughter managed to study online, although there was not as much urgency with the two young fellas, as they have minds like sponges at a young age and will catch up no problem when school starts again.

Their parents say the boys were kept busy with practical chores and life-learning lessons. Suffice to say, the grass was cut numerous times with the ride-on-mower. Being a well-established logging company, fortunately, their business went into lockdown with reasonably stable cash flow but still needed to use the government-supplied wage subsidy for the staff and suspended finance company payments to interest-only for three months.

When this edition went to print, their provisional tax was still payable, I am told. Once Level 4 restrictions were removed, the logging contractor was back at work. And while there were still Level 3 restrictions, it was comparatively easy, with all operators driving their own utes to and from work.

Luckily, staff were all fit and ready to go, and, of course, physical distancing out in the forest was not a problem. To ensure safety measures are being taken seriously, some forestry companies have been policing separation distances of loggers to make sure they are complying.

Although, I would have thought the open environment of a logging operation would make the transmission of the virus difficult. On a bright note, it looks like some forestry companies are playing their part to ease cash flow by paying on a two-weekly cycle.

This goes to show that some businesses realise working in this industry is a partnership between all stakeholders. Hopefully, looking into the future, forestry companies will learn from this and diversify their markets by helping get our local industry relying more on wood products once again.

Summing up the last couple of months, it was power to the people of New Zealand.
The elected government asked its voters to respond and for the most part, they did. A small percentage thought themselves above others and put the rest of us at risk, which is just not on in my books.

For those who are retired and have been forced to stay home, you might think, so what? As I see it, most retirees have paid their lifetime of taxes and contributed to their families and communities.

Every day under a pandemic cloud is time taken away from them and the very reason we need to work together to support those that have supported us. Now, we must enter into this new economy with a positive attitude and look for ways to change old habits into new cash cows.

I don’t want to see people complaining about whether their coffee card will still work. As a nation, we will need to exercise compassion and tolerance to once again be the breadbasket of the Pacific.

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