Dozens of workers yesterday attended a rally at the commission’s headquarters in Edinburgh to discuss Wednesday’s announcement as unions threatened strike action because of the cutbacks.
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However, it has now emerged that Forestry Commission Scotland, which manages woodlands north of the Border, is to shed a further 10% of its 1000-strong workforce, which could include field workers over the next four years.
Roseanna Cunningham, Scottish Environment Minister, attended the rally and said she had been “completely taken aback” by the plans to cut jobs.
She called for high-level talks over the announcement that half of the research and administration workforce at Edinburgh are to go as England and Wales prepare to privatise their forests.
Although Scotland’s forests are not to be privatised, and the jobs being lost in Edinburgh relate to administering forests south of the Border, there are wider concerns for the upkeep of the forestry estate in Scotland as key research expertise is lost. Of the jobs earmarked to go in Edinburgh, one-third are in research.
Concerns have been raised over loss of skills in the sector and the impact of the loss of the finance and administration jobs in Edinburgh and the wider cuts around Scotland’s communities.
Union officials say they are considering strike action. PCS union’s Mary Irvine said staff were devastated by the news. She said strike action would only be a last resort, adding: “We are in shock, but we intend to fight this.
“People have families to take care of; mortgages to pay. There are not many openings in this sector. Working in this sector is like a vocation, it is not just a job.”
Ms Cunningham met with workers in Corstorphine yesterday. She said: “This has been done with no consultation or negotiation whatsoever, so we are having to try to work out what the implications are going to be for us.
“We are completely taken aback, so one of the first things I have asked Bob McIntosh, the chief executive of Forestry Commission Scotland, is what this means for us.”
Sarah Boyack, Edinburgh Labour MSP, also attended the rally. She said: “There are massive implications here, although the issues are affecting forests in England and Wales.
“These are skilled jobs that are vital to the forestry sector. It is not just about the ownership of the forest, it is about the research that is carried out and the management of the forests.”
Margaret Smith, Edinburgh LibDem MSP, also attended the rally. She said: “I am very worried about the impact this will have in Edinburgh but also in communities around Scotland.”
Scottish LibDem deputy environment spokesman Jim Hume added: “This is clearly a very worrying time for commission employees in Scotland. I will be making representations to Caroline Spellman at Defra on their behalf.”
A spokesman for Forestry Commission Scotland said there was not expected to be compulsory redundancies in the 100 field jobs to be lost.
Both Forestry Commission GB and Forestry Commission Scotland are administered at the Edinburgh HQ.
The spokesman said yesterday that consultation had started with unions and workers, while also outlining the potential numbers of job losses.
Carol Evans, Woodland Trust Scotland director, said: “Although we are not in a position to comment on the number of job losses within the Forestry Commission, we are extremely concerned about the potential loss of expertise in areas such as climate change and forestry management research.
“Forest research plays a key role in managing the response to tree diseases.
“At a time when reported cases are on the increase, any loss of specialists in this area could have a detrimental effect on the industry’s ability to deal with cases swiftly and effectively.”