“The forest is our future”: faced with job cuts, ONF employees demand “a real debate in the Assembly”

“The forest can save us if we preserve it” : Hundreds of employees of the National Forestry Office (ONF) demonstrated Thursday, November 25 to demand the “Renegotiation of the contract with the State” which provides for 500 job cuts, and a vision for the future to face climate change.

“Arms to plant trees”, “Means and a new governance” : dressed in the bottle-green forest uniform, they were gathered in front of the ONF headquarters in Paris at the call of an inter-union, to express their anger at “An economic model at the end of its rope” and “Unable to respond to the climate emergency”, according to a journalist from Agence France-Presse.

“We have lost 5,000 jobs in twenty years: today, there are only 8,000 of us managing public forests. The drop in staff has led to a refocusing on commercial activities to the detriment of our public service missions ”, explains Patrice Martin, secretary general of Snupfen-Solidaires, the first public sector union at the ONF.

“We are asking for the renegotiation of the ONF-State 2021-2025 contract, which was narrowly adopted by the board of directors in July: all the unions, but also the representatives of the 11,000 forest municipalities, the associations voted against”, did he declare.

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Cup of hot coffee in hand, forestry workers do not understand that 500 jobs are being cut “While injecting millions to plant trees: who is going to plant them, maintain them? “, asks David Druesne, from Annecy. “The State is financially strangling the ONF instead of carrying out its missions: what we are asking for is a viable economic model, which makes it possible to face up to climate issues”, insists Patrice Martin.

The new contract of objectives and performance was the subject of bitter battles, both within the ONF and among elected officials.

“We can already see the damage”

At the same time as the job cuts – which target forestry workers who will be replaced by external service providers – the contract provides for a budget extension for the State, in order to allow the heavily indebted ONF to restore its budget to balance. here in 2025.

He also envisaged an additional contribution from forest municipalities of nearly 30 million euros, which the government has just given up in the face of the outcry from the municipalities. In return, the latter have undertaken to increase contractualization, which provides a better guarantee of supply and price to sawmills.

Among the workers, anger disputed him with disgust: “The service providers we hire do not have forestry training. We can already see the damage: on a plot where clearing (removal of dead wood, uprooting to promote suitable or valuable species) was done in the Allier, they left only oak, to the detriment of cherry trees or cormiers’, testifies Julien Odrat, forestry worker at the ONF for thirteen years.

The unions criticize an economic model at the end of its rope. “Our model remains based on wood sales, which have been falling steadily for 40 years. We all know that wood no longer pays for forests ”, says Philippe Canal, from Snupfen-Solidaires.

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“A real debate in the Assembly”

“We must realize that the forest, which covers 30% of the territory, provides immense economic services to society: it protects the soil, preserves water resources, shelters biodiversity and stores carbon”, he explains.

He pleads for a “Real debate, in the Assembly” on what the forest represents, “Our first bulwark against climate change”, recalling that a third of forest municipalities are now affected by the risk of fire.

The demonstrators, gathered in front of the headquarters of the ONF where a board of directors was to be held, began a march towards Bercy at the end of the morning, “Where everything is decided”. Initially scheduled for Thursday, the board of directors was ultimately not convened, pending the appointment of a new president. The previous council came to an end of mandate in September. “Another example of the disinterest of the State”, commented several union representatives, while the budget must be voted before the end of the year.

The World with AFP

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“The forest is our future”: faced with job cuts, ONF employees demand “a real debate in the Assembly”