The BC Government has announced that they will now be accepting loan applications from logging contractors as an ongoing labour dispute enters into its eighth month.
According to a press release sent out from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, logging contractors affected by the dispute between the United Steel Workers and Western Forest Products can now apply for bridging loans to help them make payments on logging equipment.
The Ministry said the province has established the Coast Logging Equipment Support Trust (CLEST), worth $5-million, in an attempt to avoid foreclosure of logging equipment on the coast.
Eligible independent coastal logging contractors will be able to borrow bridging funds through the trust.
Eric van Soeren has been appointed by the BC Government as independent trustee with full oversight of the CLEST. The Province has said van Soeren will be responsible for all financial decisions independent from government.
In the release, the Ministry said that “the trust will provide applicants with long-term loans at commercial rates for their eligible logging equipment assets,” and it will be van Soeren who will perform the assessments as well as negotiate the loan structure with each applicant.
The release also said that eligible contractors who are approved will not receive money directly.
According to The Ministry of Forests, the trustee will co-ordinate all loan payments with the leaseholders, financial institutions and equipment companies for logging equipment that is in arrears.
The announcement of the CLEST comes on the heels of news that the two sides of the labour dispute might be meeting this weekend. The union representing the forestry workers said that mediators have contacted them and Western Forest Products with mediation availability for this weekend.
Both sides have indicated that on Sunday, February 2 they are available.
The current strike began back on July 1. The action affects about 3,000 coastal forest workers employed in Western Forest Products sawmills and timberlands operations in the province. The union says the strike is over the potential loss of pensions, seniority rights and long-term disability benefits. In December, Western Forest Products announced that a round of talks the union had collapsed and negotiations had reached an impasse.
With files to the BC Government