British Columbia’s Council of Forest Industries (COFI) says it can’t support a WSCA effort to eliminate tree planting camp costs across the province this spring.

The WSCA had proposed forest companies and BC Timber Sales (BCTS) compensate tree planting firms for ceasing the common practice of charging workers $25.00 per work day for food and accommodation amenities starting May 1. The reimbursement, which would have meant an estimated eight percent increase in planting costs, is part of an emerging WSCA strategy to retain and recruit competent tree planters in an increasingly tight labour market. This year experienced seasonal workers continued a trend of leaving the silviculture sector causing a planting capacity shortfall felt across B.C.

Earlier this spring the WSCA met with executives of six of the major Interior licensees and BCTS to make the case for the camp cost elimination and explain the causes and implications of the growing capacity problem. The WSCA said that the market for silviculture services would have to correct a decade-long trend of declining bid prices, lower wages and shrinking profits. The WSCA feared that the province’s reforestation program could not continue to attract and keep capable workers and contractors if the present trends continue. The WSCA suggested the province’s reforestation program was in possible jeopardy threatening forest health, harvests and markets.

COFI said it took the silviculture capacity problem seriously after its forestry committee undertook extensive discussions regarding the WSCA proposal. But in the end “no single point of view emerged” regarding eliminating camp costs. Instead COFI recommended contractors who felt their contracts and businesses were in jeopardy, because of the capacity shortfalls, should approach companies individually to negotiate concessions. COFI and the WSCA have agreed to continue talks around the capacity problem and market conditions.

Like COFI, BC Timber Sales failed to support the proposal citing contract administrative problems. At the same time BCTS said it was prepared to consider other long term proposals regarding how and when future projects could be tendered and undertaken to alleviate capacity problems.

Tree planters’ piece work wages have generally not increased in a decade and the camp cost charge is now seen as a discouragement when other industrial sectors, particularly oil and gas, pay camp costs, even offering bonuses to recruits. Six years ago when the WSCA negotiated a new set of Employment Standard Act Regulations for silviculture workers the camp cost was capped at $25.00 per day and written into the regulation. Originally intended to protect workers from exploitative camp costs the regulation had the unintended effect of legally enshrining the practice. Now some contractors are promising to eliminate the charge voluntarily by passing the costs onto their clients rather than their employees in next year’s bidding. The WSCA is considering asking Cabinet to change the Act’s silviculture regulations so they are silent on camp costs.