We all know about or have personally felt the effects of the forestry industry’s downturn over the last few years.
In the past 12 months, COVID-19 has thrown in additional barriers to the sector’s recovery. This has affected thousands of workers who are trying to live a good life and make a decent living, just like I was when I worked in a mill 40 years ago.
It is because of my deep forestry roots that I want to see the forest industry succeed and ensure its workers are supported.
Eighteen months ago, our government launched a three-year, $69-million effort to help displaced forestry workers cope with mill closures, curtailments and an overall downturn in the industry. About $52 million of this funds two programs to support displaced forestry workers and their families, people who I care about, in BC communities - the Bridging to Retirement program and Job Placement Coordination offices. These programs work together to create openings for younger workers.
The Bridging to Retirement program allows older workers to retire early and remain in their communities with their families - creating openings for workers who are in the early phases of their careers. Job Placement Coordination offices help displaced forestry workers with customized training and job searches.
Demand has been high for the retirement bridging funding. In over 100 communities in BC, this program has helped 700 people retire early through $30 million in benefits and created 400 forestry jobs for younger workers in communities since the program started in 2019.
The program expanded to coastal communities last fall, and 125 workers have now received funding offers totalling $4.7 million. We are nearing our application limit for the coast and soon will close the intake for new applications.
Displaced workers on the coast can access service through any Job Placement Coordination office. The Job Placement Coordination offices have connected with over 5,500 people and more than 800 displaced workers have been linked to training opportunities that align with their interests and abilities.
Displaced millworkers have found alternative employment, such as building log homes, working on major projects like LNG Canada, Trans-Mountain Pipeline and Site C, and starting their own businesses.
The people affected by these economic hardships and the communities they live in need and deserve our help. This issue is close to my heart.
From the beginning of the pandemic, our government has been there to support the people most in need, and we’ve taken action to help hard-hit industries while we build a strong economic recovery. We have many programs in place to assist people who depend on the forestry sector for their livelihood, not just in my ministry but across government.
Premier John Horgan signalled his intent to support forestry with the appointment of Roly Russell as parliamentary secretary for rural development under Katrine Conroy, minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development. Russell’s mandate includes establishing offices to support workers in economically challenged resource communities.
This work is part of the government’s continued efforts to revitalize the industry and support these workers and their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Harry Bains is BC’s minister of labour.