One of the things that makes planting trees in Canada exceptional is the number of women who make up the seasonal workforce compared to the rest of the resource sectors. A 2015 B.C. labour market survey estimated women share nearly half the sector’s hard work and conditions. As a result, thousands of young women have grown strong, grown independent, made good money, and made good friends planting trees.
But the egalitarianism of the work may not be true in all respects. With thousands of young women and men working together in the woods there are some risks. Five years ago, following WorkSafeBC bullying and harassment legislation and widespread accounts of sexual assaults on university campuses, the sector’s BC SAFE Forestry Program (BCSFP), started an education and training strategy to address the risk of sexual harassment and violence in the sector. Employers recognized then the parallels between campuses and planting crews: same demographics, young men and women sharing each other’s company often for the first time, and everyone away from home and authorities as they’ve known them. Women were likely being victimized.
The sector’s early work on workplace harassment and violence led to a panel at the 2017 WFCA annual conference. There victims of workplace abuse and harassment spoke to the audience describing their experiences. The invited speakers included two women planters. They described over the years how few of their employers had effective codes of conduct or systems in place to deal with workplace discrimination and violence. The women told of not only having to shoulder the hard work, but too often having to brace themselves against sexism and worse.
The victims’ narratives showed, even though some companies had adopted effective programs, the sector as a whole needed to catch up to these good examples. Since then bridging that gap has been the goal of WFCA leaders in the reforestation sector. Today companies across the sector are progressing to that standard of care. Workers, and women in particular, are safer each year because employers are committed to building the systems and applying their skills to eliminate the risk of workplace harassment and violence as well as other safety hazards.
• This year the BC SAFE Forestry Advocate Dr. Jordan Tesluk, who has instructed on preventing workplace harassment and violence at our WFCA annual conferences, is holding regional workshops throughout the province for owners and supervisors. These will address industry safety including bullying and assaults,
• As they have for the last two years the social service agency Northern Society for Domestic Peace (NSDP) will continue educating workers in camps on respect and consent at the invitation of contractors. WorkSafeBC and the BCSFP are jointly funding the agency to make training videos for workers this spring.
• Frontline supervisors play a critical part in setting examples and preventing workplace harassment and violence. This year BC Forest Safety is assisting the BCSFP in developing treeplanting supervision training that will include instruction to reduce bullying and assault risks to workers.
• This spring the BCSFP will work with employers to gather the best practices and other attributes that make respectful and violence-free workplaces. This will produce guidelines for employers to use to assess and improve their own prevention and investigation performance.
• BC Forest Safety with its SAFE Certification Program is willing to assist the sector to develop and implement an audited voluntary certification as a violence and harassment-free workplace should employers think this practical.
• The WFCA is committed to assisting employers in developing and implementing effective and consequential employee codes of conduct and orientation programs to prevent abusive workplaces. It will also work with employers to improve hiring practices so that offenders are not among our workers.
• Employers recognize that their own companies and the sector would benefit from having more women in management and supervision. This is a goal for the sector. It will go along with the broad objective of ensuring supervisors and managers are chosen with the right attributes to properly execute their tasks and duties.
As we have over the last half-decade, the WFCA and its members will continue to set standards and put in place responsible administrative systems to make women and men safe from workplace harassment and violence in reforestation. These will go along with other aspects of workplace safety where the sector has shown strong leadership.
Treeplanting has a very strong culture. Ultimately, what we are trying to influence is how individuals relate and treat one another on our crews. Our collective goal, for both employers and workers, is to shape treeplanting culture so that it fully embraces respect between men and women and rejects any abuse of trust. That culture must be one that abides by the principle that it is in all our interests to look out for one another in the reforestation sector and society. This is how the change will take root and this is how it will endure.
The recent news cycle has reported stories of women, and some men, who have been harassed, discriminated against, and assaulted as tree planters. These accounts, going back over a number of years, were gathered by the NSDP with the support of contractors. The stories are deeply disturbing to hear. But that distress is little compared to what these victims have had to suffer. We hope that they have help and that they can recover the fullness of the happy lives they deserve. We also thank them for their courage in telling their stories. By those acts they have helped prevent others from becoming victims.
Western Forestry Contractors’ Association Board of Directors