Financial aid is coming to northern and interior B.C. forestry workers.
The provincial government has invested $69 million to help with employment opportunities, training and an early-retirement bridging program.
"Forestry is and always will continue to be an important part of the rural economy and the B.C. economy as well," said B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson at Prince George's CN Railyard today (Sept. 17).
"We are realigning our worker and community support programs and establishing capacity to ensure that workers have access to the services they need from training, to work placement, to early retirement," explained Donaldson.
"Our new approaches include job placement coordination, cost-shared support for incremental early retirement opportunities, short term work opportunity creation, enhanced worker training and mental health support and transition funding for communities to provide services to workers."
The new approaches include:
- $40 million to establish a new cost-shared, early-retirement bridging program for older forest workers;
- $15 million to establish a new short-term forest employment program, focused on fire prevention and community resiliency projects;
- $12 million for workers to access skills training, and for employer and community grants for training;
- $2 million to establish a new job placement co-ordination office that will track the transition and employment of impacted forest workers on an individual basis; and
- Community support grants aimed at providing short-term assistance to communities more profoundly impacted by the closure of a major forest employer.
"As we journey together through this period of adjustment to the well-predicted drop in log supply due to the end of the pine beetle, these action items announced today will help support workers as we focus on a future where we maximize value for every log coming out of the publicly-held forests lands rather than maximizing volume," added Donaldson.
He also called for both the forestry industry and federal government to step up and do their part.
"We are also asking industry to stand with us and step up to support the workers' programing I’ve outlined here. We want industry to be partners in this," said Donaldson.
"Company approaches to closures and curtailments have varies and we need to work together to create uniform, fair and organized response to those impacted by closures. I’m standing here today and asking all interior forest companies to step up and throw your support behind these initiatives."
Minister of Labour Harry Bains said forestry is and will continue to be an important part of the rural and B.C. economy.
"Today’s announcement helps prevent the emptying out of rural communities hardest hit by curtailments and closing. It supports impacted workers, their families and communities where they live," said Bains.
"It helps provide incentives for early retirement so we can retain these workers with long careers still ahead of them and it provides training job placement assistance and mental health support from those reeling from job losses."
Donaldson added that these announcements build upon the grassroots work of community transition teams, who have been on the ground in communities since the initial permanent curtailments and closures were announced.
"Many of the mill closures permanently, the final dates have been in August, and now it's September. What we wanted to make sure is that we tailored this program to the actual needs of communities by hearing and listening to what's happening on the ground with workers and then tailoring and making sure we got it right," said Donaldson.
"This is a continuum and these announcements today are part of a package in response to exactly what we heard from communities and the needs and the gaps that are there for workers."
Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall said the curtailments and closures have impacted hundreds of families in the city and even more throughout the region.
"The forest industry is one of our major economic drivers in the community despite the fact that we have become diversified in our economic growth. It’s an important piece of that we do here in Prince George and not only Prince George but the entire region," he said.
"We have heard for the last probably six months about curtailments in operations throughout our region and we have heard about closures throughout our entire region and that in itself send a message that families need assistance."
Brian O'Rourke, president of United Steel Workers Local 1-2017 in Prince George, said the announcement and funding is a good start.
"I think the provincial government has done a great thing in stepping up but I wish the feds were along in the picture to up the ante a whole lot more," said O'Rourke. "Given where we are today, this should help to — not make everything right — but will soften the blow for a lot of members in small rural communities and especially with the training initiatives that are out there."
Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris and Parliamentary Secretary Ravi Kahlon were also at the announcement.