An exit poll taken of silviculture workers last year shows they rate wages almost as important as camp life, working outdoors and treatment by their employers in deciding to remain in or leave the sector. These observations are part of a recently released WSCA report that includes the full set of the 2011internet survey results including workers’ qualitative descriptions of what they found the most and least attractive about planting trees, brushing and spacing and fighting wildfires in B.C.
BC’s seasonal silviculture workers expect higher wages, need more days to work, and one fifth of them will not return to the industry this year according to the results of a recently released worker survey conducted by the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association (WSCA). The WSCA Silviculture Worker Survey Report was commissioned last fall because of industry concerns over the sector’s ability to recruit and retain reliable seasonal employees as silviculture work increases this year. The study, which gathered information volunteered by workers and employers, suggests in 2011 half of all silviculture workers earned on average $22.50 per hour or less. This hourly rate, based on their piece work earnings, places them among the lowest paid resource sector workers in the province compared to entry level hourly wages available in logging, mining and oil and gas. As well, with 60 per cent of the workforce working between one to three months annually, half of the workers polled indicated they needed at least another month or more of forestry work to meet their earning expectations. The WSCA has tracked workers’s piece rates for the last decade reporting that with inflation average prices paid to workers have declined by almost 30 per cent.
But this year’s study, which follows on an interim report produced last December, contains the full set of survey results including workers’ qualitative answers regarding what they found the most and least attractive about silviculture work. The results suggest that workers aren’t purely attracted to the wages in silviculture. Although nearly half of them polled rated pay as one of the most attractive things about silviculture work, working outdoors in a natural setting, keeping fit, enjoying the informal work and life style all scored highly as well. The survey results indicate the work culture, general treatment by employers and camp life may be as important as earnings when it comes to recruiting and retaining workers.
The 71 page report provides the industry’s first empirical synopsis of worker’s expectations and experience in this critical forestry sector. It shows that unlike the rest of the forest industry where most workers are well past middle age, silviculture employs predominately young workers under the age of 26 years. A third of the workforce are women and more than 70 per cent of the workers polled describe themselves as regular or career silviculture workers. The report goes on to summarize detailed data on workforce demographics, earnings, worker experience, education and workplace safety.
Funded by both the WSCA and the Labour Market Partnership Program this original survey will be a founding document for ongoing research to develop a human resource strategy for the BC silviculture sector. Further projects are planned for this year including repeating the worker survey on an annual basis, completing a population study of the sector, tracking employer turnover, and conducting an appreciative inquiry pilot study on how workers adapt successfully to silviculture work. The results of these studies are expected to be released as they are completed and used as part of a broad scheme to develop employer and employee practices and strategies to ensure the silviculture sector can continue attracting and keeping skilled and reliable seasonal workers.