New Forest Opportunities Ltd. has hired a market research firm to conduct a stakeholder review of the controversial employment agency¹s operations.

Angus Reid Group will contact an estimated 200 employees and 30 contractors over the next two months to gauge their satisfaction with New Forest¹s policies and service. Besides looking at the agency¹s placement practices including local hiring provisions the poll will also review the IWA¹s role in representing forestry workers employed by New Forest.

New Forest President Bob Beard says the Angus Reid survey is part of a major stakeholder review of his agency that will primarily consult with

the union, licensees, First Nations and workers. Local politicians, communities, and groups without a direct stake in the agency will be brought into the review as well. The survey will be used to change and

improve the operations of New Forest Opportunities said Beard. If there is widespread dissatisfaction with the agency Beard didn¹t rule out the possibility of drastic reforms.

Union grievance raises contractors’ concerns

A recent grievance against a New Forest sub contractor stopped just short of arbitration but not before raising a number of issues of whether small silviculture firms involved with New Forest opportunities stand a chance before an arbitrator. A brushing contractor reported that he worked a chemical thinning project by co-oping the crew¹s pay rate and production.

However the union took notice when the productivity level and pay rates consistently fell short of the minimum earning called for in the collective agreement. The union insisted the contractor was violating the intent and spirit of the contract and frustrating the incentive pay system by allegedly deliberately setting rates too low. This allowed him to recalculate to a rate ensuring he had to only pay the minimum. The union insisted this amounted to a day rate model rather than a true incentive system.

The contractor claimed he was only risk managing his pay rate being the blocks were so variable it was impossible to estimate productivity. Conservatively setting the pay rates was simply prudent and not a cynical strategy on his part. Furthermore he claimed he actually paid more than the minimum once the blocks were done. None of the employees complained about their final pay rates. The grievance was started by the union on its own.

However the grievance was settled before arbitration with the contractor paying another $50 per man day increasing his costs $6,000. Although it was under no obligation New Forest paid part of the settlement. The contractor felt he was not in violation of the collective agreement but settled out of court on the grounds that his half share of the arbitration costs were worth more than what the union was asking. In his view the arbitration process was punitive before he had a chance to win or lose his case.

The grievance showed the collective agreement lacks clarity around the issue of co-oping work. Defining the spirit and intent of the contract is illusive as well. When is a contractor manipulating their payroll and when is a contractor just appropriately managing his risk? The case also raises payroll privacy issues in the New Forest model since the contractor suspected the union had too much of an idea of his profits on the project providing them with a motive to pursue the grievance.

Finally, there is the matter of the apparent mismatch between the legal resources of the union and the average contractor.

New Forest Opportunities and the WSCA are planning to meet next month to review the situation. According to the agency there have only been a few grievances usually involving minor payroll discrepancies. No grievance has gone to arbitration.