The province plans to spend $69-million to fund a series of measures to help forestry workers coping with mill closures and shift reductions in several B.C. Interior communities.
The measures include $40-million for an early-retirement program for older forest workers, $12-million for workers to access skills training, and for employer and community grants for training.
There is also $15-million for a new short-term forest employment program, focused on fire prevention and community resiliency projects.
The NDP government says the Interior forest industry has been reducing production in an effort to adjust to the end of the mountain pine beetle harvest and the devastating 2017 and 2018 fire seasons.
“While the forest sector must reduce surplus milling capacity to remain competitive, it cannot do so at the expense of the workers, contractors and communities who built the industry,” said premier John Horgan.
“Our government will ensure that forest workers impacted by mill closures are supported.”
Companies have announced shutdowns or curtailments at more than two dozen mills in the province, putting hundreds out of work and slashing economic growth predictions.
“Something needs to change immediately or these small communities that don’t have other employers are going to wither and die,” said Marty Gibbons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1-417, based in Kamloops, B.C.
The local represents hundreds of forestry workers who have lost jobs in Interior communities including Merritt, Clearwater, Vavenby and Clinton.
The largest driving factor is the province’s complex stumpage system that results in high fees, he said.
“These are private businesses. If they can’t turn a profit, there’s no reason for them to run. Right now, it’s not the markets that are the issue. It’s the cost of the logs,” he said.
“Taking this step to support workers and their families is the right thing for the B.C. government to do,” said Gavin McGarrigle, western regional director, Unifor.
“Forestry workers are facing enormous challenges across the Interior right now.”
With files from CBC