Tough times do not last however tough people do and 2020 has shown how tough our industry is.
Within weeks of last year’s AGM, fires were beginning to ravage the landscape. No one at the time could imagine how big the fires would grow and how devastating the impact would be. I recall Jamie Dahlsen, the FTMA Chair telling me in the first week of January that I was meant to be taking holidays, to which I said, it’s okay, once the fires are over, I’ll take a break.
That break never came as by March 2020 the Black Summer fires had burnt almost 19 million hectares, destroyed over 3,000 houses, and killed 33 people. The forest industry, both plantation and native, saw valuable resource go up in flames and a number of mega-fires occurred in NSW resulting in more burned area than in any fire season during the last 20 years.
A huge congratulations must go to the teams at Hyne Tumbarumba and AKD Tumut for their tireless work to support their communities and for the speed in which they addressed the resource recovery issue. Some of their teams had lost houses or family & friends and together they supported their communities through some extremely tough days.
It was a hectic start to the year and FTMA Australia worked throughout the fires to support fabricators in the path, support timber communities in general and work with the timber companies to ensure we had the latest information on how these fires would impact our timber resource which we communicated to members.
Just when the fires settled down and we thought we could get back on to the everyday issues, COVID-19 arrived and knocked us all for six. On the 12th March, 2 weeks after Australia declared the coronavirus would become a pandemic and 47 days after the first case was detected in Australia, WHO made it official. We were in a Pandemic.
The first FTMA Australia COVID-19 update went out on the 10th March and within a week we had sent members information outlining tax support for business affected by coronavirus, employee entitlements during the Pandemic, getting your workplace ready, a Small Business to do in isolation toolkit and updated hygiene flyers.
Within weeks no one could access hand sanitiser and knowing this would be needed in workplaces, FTMA Australia in conjunction with our wonderful Gold Sponsors, MiTek, Multinail & Pryda sought to get our hands-on sanitiser for the whole sector. By this stage there was no chance of getting alcohol based sanitiser, however, we did manage to get our hands on a non-alcohol based sanitiser that based on all the evidence we could find, would do the job. We had no option at the time but to go with this product, which later received TGA approval and I take my hat off to the nail plate companies who acted swiftly to protect all fabricators.
The Australian Government announced a $130 billion wage subsidy package called JobKeeper that fast became many small businesses best friend. Without this subsidy, there was no doubt many businesses would close and it has supported many members through difficult times.
Sunday 22nd March and FTMA tried as hard as possible to keep up with the fast changing landscape, sending members three emails with the final email at 9.48pm that evening explaining that whilst the country was going in to lockdown on Monday 23rd, our sector was recognised as essential workers and we were to remain open.
From here the next few months for Nikita and I were a blur. Luckily, we were already in front of things as our office was always based at home and my amazing daughter Nikita was already working with FTMA.
Every day for months we tuned in to media events by all state and territory leaders and from the Prime Minister to ensure the latest information was sent to fabricators within hours of being announced. Nikita developed extremely professional posters, flow charts and together we developed fact sheets that outlined exactly what fabricators were required to do.
What kept us going was the amazing feedback from our members and recognising how the materials we were producing was helping fabricators.
We know we have inundated members with material and sometimes it was hard finding a balance of providing the latest information whilst ensuring we were not bothering you with unnecessary details. For us it was about simplifying the sometimes-confusing rules, breaking down what was and was not applicable and getting out the relevant information to the membership.
From March through to the end of June we also provided all the COVID-19 updates to all non-members, as we felt it was important for the national industry that as many fabricators survived the Pandemic and came out the other side. We did this with no expectations of fabricators becoming members and members definitely received more detailed information than non-members, however, we felt given we were in the middle of a pandemic, we needed to try and look out for everyone.
FTMA proudly collaborated with TABMA, MGA TMA & TTIA to address the QBE Insurance fiasco and develop a Six Step Stimulus plan for the Australian construction industry. The four Associations worked closely to ensure letters were sent to all key decision makers and politicians and even though we would have hoped for more with the insurance issue, QBE did backflip for some and a number of our stimulus steps were introduced. Of course, we don’t pretend this was because of the work we did; however, it was important for all of industry to sing from the same hymn sheet and we did that well.
Even up until June, everyone thought the housing sector was heading for a cliff and that we would see massive impacts as a result of the lockdowns and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, however this never eventuated.
FTMA engaged the services of well-known and respected industry identity, Tim Woods of Industry Edge to develop Housing Reports whilst addressing timber supply issues as well. From April 2020 through to June 2021, we have engaged Tim to provide reports so our members can be kept abreast of the latest housing and timber figures.
Timber supply has become a huge issue as a result of COVID-19 and there has been much debate as to whether we actually have a real shortage or a business disruption. FTMA has at every step simply tried to get the latest figures to fabricators and for fabricators to understand that we have faced fires in Australia and overseas that has impacted resource. We have had mill fires and machinery breakdown at mills, we have had port issues and of course we have seen the international price of timber go through the roof. It has been hard as I can talk to four timber suppliers and get four stories so Tim’s reports were all about focusing on the stats and facts so fabricators could get the full picture.
Besides COVID-19 related issues, FTMA Australia has worked on revising the national qualifications for the frame and truss sector in conjunction with Forestworks, worked on the Timber Systems Designer short course, address timber waste issues, have run weekly webinars since the first week of August and helped members out with everyday issues such as WHS and industrial relations issues.
Late in 2019 and early 2020 we worked on the 2020 National Fabricator Census and we were pleased that 68% of fabricators participated in the survey. The aggregated data from these types of surveys are essential as the more data we have on our sector, the more information we can use to chase government support, lift the profile of the industry and address issues such as training.
The Census showed from 185 business we had over 4700 employees of which 89.8% were male. 32.6% of all employees were over the age of 46 and only 2.7% of our employees are indigenous. We could tell from the data that 28.9% of businesses had participated in accredited training whilst 51.9% of businesses undertook unaccredited training. This shows we have work to do this area to make it more affordable, to make training more accessible and to address businesses concerns around the training content.
In a year with so much uncertainty, it has been reassuring to have the continued amazing support from our sponsors including:
AB Phillips, AKD Softwoods, Borg Manufacturing, Meyer Timber, Timberlink & Vekta Automation
A-Grade Fasteners, CombiLift, Dindas Australia, Hundegger, Hyne Timber, Independent Hardware Group, McCormack Hardwood Sales, OneFortyOne Wood Products, Programmed Timber Supplies, Roadpod, Simpson Strong-Tie, StoraEnso, Tilling, VIDA, VTW and Wurth
Our membership has continued to grow and even though a few plants have closed over the past 12 months, we continue to represent just over 48% of the whole industry with 132 fabricators out of the 271 national plants as members of the Association plus many supplier members who form part of the FTMA family.
They say the ultimate measure of a person or company is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy. I am extremely proud that FTMA Australia can stand tall and say we stepped up to the challenge and I truly hope we have made your lives a little easier during what has been a difficult year.