The B.C. Liberal government wants to reduce regulations and increase workplace flexibility. Ironically the silvicultural regs may be out of step with government’s agenda.
Nothing would seem more contradictory than the current policy conundrum the silviculture industry faces over its special silvicultural regulations. These relatively new rules created under the aegis of the NDP two years ago give the silviculture contracting industry more flexibility around hours of work, over time and shift scheduling than any other sector in B.C. The provisions far exceed anything proposed in the employment standard revisions introduced this spring by the Liberals.
Furthermore the silvicultural regulations came out of a two-year collaboration between the ministry of labour and various silviculture employer and employee stakeholders. The rules clearly make sense for our industry and they offer a remedy to government’s previous inability to get much compliance or cooperation from the sector.
But the rules now appear to be out of step with the Liberal’s agenda. The silviculture regulations allow for a work week in excess of 40 hours—66 hours to be exact before piece work overtime premiums kick in. Not exceeding forty hours is a concept Minster Graham Bruce appears to be wedded to as his government introduces more workplace flexibility, but primarily only around daily hours of work. And the regulations by their just being on the books create the kind of stuff Kevin Falcon minister of state for deregulation is trying to get rid of. That adds up to two strikes against our regs if government acts simplistically. By that I mean thinking that the odd square-shaped silvicultural industry peg can be driven into a round hole of centralized regs (better meant for the restaurant trade) and that regulations inherently impede the conduct of business and should be reduced even when they make sense.
So far we have been told government will not go backwards on the regulations. A report will go to the minister recommending the silvicultural regulations stand for the time being. Meantime some strategy will have to be thought of to keep in concert with government’s objectives while keeping the current regulatory intent enshrined; if that is possible. This new process looks like a makework project nobody needs on either side of the issue and just the true kind of red tape process the whole reduction initiative is supposed to be eliminating.
An unfortunate spin off of this is that justifiable new regulations for other parts of our industry, such as the fire line contractors, are likely to go nowhere if they involve increasing the amount of regulation currently on the books.
But there is more. The irony is compounded when we consider that perhaps a majority of silvicultural contractors in the province still deliberately operate outside of the generous provisions of the new regulations. I regularly receive enough direct and hearsay evidence to conclude that non-compliance with regular pay periods, application of payroll penalties, working in shifts in excess of the allowable consecutive days on the job, failure to meet minimum wage requirements, overcharging for camp and motel costs etc. are endemic across the industry. Considering that government expects a high degree of voluntary compliance in exchange for increased workplace flexibility our industry’s obvious failure amounts to a potentially fatal third strike against us.
Of course the third strike business assumes government is even interested in us. But it might be. They are looking for sectors to make examples of. Recently the director of the employment standards branch signed a memorandum of understanding with the restaurant industry in a joint venture to reduce complaints and increase compliance. That cooperation between the private and public sector is considered a constructive example. Just what example they might make of us doesn’t look so gratifying.