The Forest Owners' Association has taken a strong stand on pay rate breaches by forest planting contractors.

President Peter Clark said a recent MBIE audit of pay rates and conditions in three forest regions had revealed what appeared to be widespread non-compliance with employment law among forest planting crews.

"We forest owners don't pay the silviculture crews ourselves. That's done by independent contractors. But our industry cannot condone exploitation of any sort," he said.

"We as a major primary industry are taking a stand on this. We don't want to deprive good workers the opportunity to earn bonus money by planting more trees in a day. But on the other hand it is unacceptable to allow inexperienced planters, or those who have to travel long distances to new locations, to be deprived of what the law specifies as minimum pay."

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Mr Clark said he would not be pointing any fingers, but there was a clear obligation to ensure greater transparency and compliance within the industry than was currently the case. The association had already set up a working group of forest companies and contractors to ensure that happened.

Achieving employment compliance was crucial as the industry geared up to anticipated large-scale extra planting under the new government's billion-tree target, he added.

"Not many extra trees will be planted in 2018. However, when the new planting load comes on in 2019, with many hundreds of extra planters, we have to have our employment side fully compliant with the law," he said.

Mr Clark noted that forest companies had been backing the recently begun Forest Industry Safety Council Safetree Contractor Certification scheme. To gain certification, a contractor had to provide documentation to prove they were labour law-compliant.

"Sixty-nine companies are already working through the process, which will result in a much more transparent industry," he said.