Licensing silvicultural contractors abandoned by BC government

Minister of Skills Development and Labour Graham Bruce says government will not regulate the silvicultural contracting industry through licensing.

Licensing silvicultural contractors is a dead issue.

Graham Bruce Minister of Skills Development and Labour is a small businessman from Vancouver Island. A former mayor and member of the Social Credit cabinet in the 80s Bruce has been known to contractors as an early advocate for reforestation and community forests. He is familiar with the silviculture industry and the WSCA.

Government, according the minister, is not interested in telling business what to do through increased regulation or schemes such as licensing or the passing of acts vesting an organization with authority to regulate its own members. As a result the minister does not support licensing silvicultural contractors and that initiative is now officially abandoned.

However, Bruce, approved of the work we had done so far through our regulatory review and the new regulations brought into effect last year. He said that he thought our industry and the WSCA were working in the right direction. In light of this he said he was willing to work with us to solve outstanding problems of compliance and enforcement of silvicultural employment standard regulations. As a businessman he understood the problems of competition in a market place where some firms rest their business strategies on non-compliance with employment standards regulations. “We intend to make it so no firm will be able to dismiss [employment standards violation penalties] as just a cost of doing business,” said Bruce. Saying this, the minister described a series of escalating enforcement options for the branch based roughly on a “three strikes; you’re out” regime. Offenders would initially be dealt with moderately. However, if the complaints continued, revealing a chronic pattern of non-compliance, the branch would invoke fines severe enough to halt the violations. It is clear that as government loosens red tape on one hand it is contemplating using a stick in the other to deal with businesses that violate the law.

I pointed out to the minister that the market and the employment standards branch had so far proven ineffective in discouraging contractors who routinely shirk their employment standards obligations. As well I remarked that there was not a worker representative body fully capable of making all employees aware of their rights and willing to complain about violations. Therefore the low number of complaints received by the branch where hardly indicative of the level of compliance in our industry. The minster understood this and suggested that government could consider a strategy specially focussed on the silviculture industry. Although no details were discussed this proposal reflected the minister’s interest in collaborating with the WSCA on employment standards problems in the silvicultural industry.

As stated in the recent Ministry of Skills Development and Labour discussion paper reviewing employment standards government is considering self-regulation as a strategy to ensure compliance. This is a goal we had proposed achieving through licensing. In spite of that, self-regulation is still an option for silviculture and it will be part of the upcoming WSCA discussions with the employment standards review team and the new director of the employment standards branch who will be selected next month. To view the employment standards review discussion paper go to www.labour.gov.bc.ca/esareview

Minister Bruce will speak at our annual conference next year in Victoria February 6,7,8 to further explain his government’s policy direction in the area of employment standards and discuss strategies with contractors.