For the second time, this month, North Island MLA and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena met with frustrated forest workers, who have been out of work for months by a labour dispute.
But this time, Trevena was joined by the provincial forest minister.
Doug Donaldson addressed a crowd of workers and community leaders in Port McNeill and Port Hardy Thursday.
Nearly 3,000 workers have been off the job since July 1.
There was renewed hope of a potential deal as a new round of negotiations, through a mediator, started Monday.
But those talks quickly broke off Tuesday, and no talks are scheduled.
Donaldson says collateral damage was a common theme when he met with workers and other community members.
“Feeling the brunt of this labour dispute, people in grocery stores, people in small businesses not directly supporting the forest sector, but they’re feeling it because people haven’t been at work for a long time,” Donaldson said in Port Hardy via Skype.
He says the question was asked many times by workers if the province is going to step into the dispute, but Donaldson says the government wants the two sides to hammer out a deal at the bargaining table on their own.
“To reach a stable agreement and stable agreements are reached when both parties negotiate an agreement, so that’s the strategy at this point.”
Donaldson says Labour Minister Harry Bains met privately with WFP Wednesday and is meeting with senior union leaders Thursday, and the forest minister will relay what he heard in Port Hardy and Port McNeill to Bains.
“I’ll be letting him know that I heard clearly from the United Steelworkers that they don’t want to be forced back to work through things like binding arbitration,” Donaldson said.
He added his ministry is working to have the tools in place to help the industry stay viable once a deal is reached, with adjustments to stumpage rates on the coast, lumber prices, and re-adjusted boundaries for the province’s fibre recovery zones.
The United Steelworkers Union says it will be holding a series of meetings with its members, starting Friday morning in Port Alberni at 10 a.m., followed by a gathering in Ladysmith at 3 p.m. Meetings will continue in Port McNeill, Powell River and Campbell River Monday.