ANOTHER day, another blow to contractors – never mind the rain, it’s monsoon season. 

News of Tilhill making major changes to its payment system emerged last month and, understandably, had members of the Forest Machine Operators Blog up in arms. 

With red diesel now more than 110p/litre (at the time of going to print – who knows how high it will be when you read this) and the cost of living crisis hitting operators in the pocket, the last thing they needed was more drama. Step forward Tilhill

READ MORE: Tilhill defends change to forestry contractors' payment terms

The prominent firm’s system is to be brought into line with that of parent company BSW Group from August, meaning invoices filed on the first of that month won’t be paid until October 5. Currently, contractors are paid on a fortnightly, self-billing basis. 

The fallout has been striking. The Forestry Contracting Association (FCA) branded it “cruel”, while Tilhill defended the move, saying the payment system remains one of forestry’s “most robust”. 

Forestry Journal: Richard Doherty Richard Doherty

It didn’t take long after the announcement for members of the Blog to have their say. 

Sharing pictures of an email to contractors – which outlined payment dates for the course of the next year – one commenter feared the worst. 

He wrote: “All Tilhill contractors need to take action on new payments. 

“Tilhill say they’re starting in August. So, every contractor won’t get a payment from August 1 until October 5 (just under 10 weeks).

“With the cost of fuel and parts I can’t see many contractors surviving this in the most difficult of times.”

The response to the news from others was similarly grim. 

“Beginning of the end for a lot of us if this happens,” one contractor wrote. 

One said: “That’s not good at all. When contractors need more support than ever.” 

Another added: “I would suggest people stick together and say they won’t accept it. But I doubt they will.”

One English contractor called for a bold approach, saying members should tell Tilhill to stick its new system where the sun doesn’t shine (we’re paraphrasing to keep this family friendly) and that such payment plans should be outlawed. 

Forestry Journal: Richard Livett Richard Livett

The member wrote: “Stick together before you all go bust. I have only worked for Tilhill once, about 25 years ago, and never again. 

READ MORE: Contractors face 'cruel' 10-week wait for payment under new Tilhill system

“In my opinion 45-to-90-day payments should all be banned. They have long since sold your product and their terms are payments on collection or within 30 days.” 

Urging members not to allow “these big companies to get away with it”, they suggested Tilhill wouldn’t have a business without contractors. 

And members weren’t done there. 

Another wrote: “Leave the timber on the road for months drying out, so they pay less to the seller, less to the contractors, less for haulage and use everyone else’s credit instead of their own and now want to make you wait even longer … sounds about right.” 

Commenting on their own ways of working, one posted: “It certainly doesn’t seem right when contractors need support most. I only cut on their sites indirect (for the harvester, not them directly). 

“I, however, thought they were on a 90-day turn-round like many others for payment. I personally found a good few that are and stay close to the two harvesters as rarely ever left waiting by them.”

Getting to the crux of the matter, one large contractor responded to the thread with a popular comment. 

Forestry Journal: Steven Ardolino Steven Ardolino

“The main problem is and always will be,” he wrote. “Some daft person will always do the work.” 

In among the criticism and concern, one lone voice – at least one member brave enough to interject – appeared to come to Tilhill’s defence. 

“To be honest, I’d rather know when I’m getting paid than have to chase and chase and chase like some other companies,” they argued. 

A short time after this thread had exploded into life, Forestry Journal shared a response from Tilhill into the Blog. In it, the firm said it “values the contribution our contractors bring to our business”, arguing its standard terms are “robust and favourable”. 

Once again this sparked much debate, with a contractor merely responding: “Won’t be saying that when they’ve no timber to shift.” 

Sticking with the theme of drastic action, members elsewhere discussed what to do about rising costs. As the old saying goes, if this was France, we’d be out in the streets by now – and it seems members inched ever closer to demanding just that. 

With talk of fuel protests being held across the country, one contractor asked: “Does anyone fancy parking a harvester across the refinery entrance? Or even better a convoy of them?” 

Forestry Journal: Simone VolkSimone Volk

“Good idea,” responded one member. “Block the refinery. Meanwhile, the government still takes almost 50 per cent the cost of fuel in tax.

“At least here anyway, that’s where the biggest problem is.” 

However, one member jokingly pointed out a major problem with having a protest that involves driving to somewhere. 

He said: “I would, but can’t afford to fill the bloody thing up!”

Meanwhile, Forestry Journal asked members for their thoughts on the current cost of living situation and what needs to be done to help. The responses were varied. 

One member was clear on who was to blame, writing: “Sawmills needs to do something about it, simple as that. Sawmills are getting record profits, but don’t pass it on to contractors, which is just pure greed. 

“I am just a forwarder driver. I may be completely wrong, but I think rates needs to be capped at £X per ton/m³, can’t go any lower to stop contractors undercutting each other.” 

Elsewhere, a member from the USA had a more traditional target in mind, before coming back to the mills. 

“I think government corruption and inability to be accountable is certainly part of the issue. Inflation, of course, is their scapegoat to blame the hike in nearly every consumer good we use on a daily basis – fuel, hoses, fluids, saw chain and bar, etc. Not to mention dramatic price hikes on equipment alone in the last few years. 

Forestry Journal: Jack Osborne Jack Osborne

“Here in the States alone, we’ve had a 4–5 x diesel fuel price increase within the last 18 months. It used to cost us $600 a week in fuel to now near $2,500.

“But as the comment above states, our paper and sawmills are seeing some of the best percentages in a decade and as expected the loggers who keep them in business are at the bottom of the barrel and see no assistance. Our big pulp mills are owned and controlled by greedy suit-and-tie guys who never set foot in the woods and see the day-to-day of us loggers/business owners as to what it takes to put food on the table. While they fill their pockets and see increased product profits we suffer. 

“The quick and simple fix is for us to stand our ground and demand – but to what extent until our voices are heard?” 

At the time of writing, no mill owner has responded to the contractors’ concerns, but we’d welcome their comments. 

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