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Rumour Mill RoundUpDate
Volume 18 Issue 14
21 September 2018

Warning: This fact warning may have appeared in previous publications.

Big Up in Workers’ Earnings Needed to Keep Up With Reforesting Province

Nickel-and-diming planters might work if it is a nickel or a dime more per tree…

Seasonal reforestation workers need to earn more as part of a major recalibration of the silviculture sector’s pricing and wage structure. It wasn’t hard for employers to come to agreement on this at last week’s WFCA annual business and market summit coinciding with the beginning of the bidding and negotiating tournament for next year’s nursery and planting work. Planting employers reported they were often short-handed during this year’s field season with fewer prospective workers applying and many of the trainees failing to catch on as well as in previous seasons. Veterans also quit planting at higher rates for easier and better paying jobs in other parts of the economy. Nursery owners report similar problems with recruitment and retention. With average planting piece work rates stagnate, and not coming close to keeping pace with inflation, recent minimum wage increases have helped expose weaknesses in how workers are being paid for their productivity.

But as far as keeping up with a rising minimum wage was concerned, employers agreed far more substantive increases are needed so that workers will be well motivated by properly-priced piece work offerings or improved hourly earnings. Planting contractors are also looking at eliminating charging workers camp and hotel costs and investing more in effective training. Meanwhile other pressures such as rising employer contributions for health care and CPP combined with rising fuel, food and other price determinants indicate all reforestation costs will have to rise substantially to make up for lost ground and to keep up with the new economy and reforestation demand. Contractors and producers have some leverage in the market now as the provincial reforestation program continues to expand for at least the next three years. With the coming shift in supply and demand they have a chance now to get better prices and to offer higher earnings. A full report from the market summit on the state of the sector is due later this month.

Our Premier is Right About How We Need New Ideas to Deal with Wildfire: Returning to Prescribed Burning is an Old One We Should Make New Again

Lighting fires is also a good place to learn how to put them out.

Back in the middle of the 2003 firestorm then Forests Minister Mike DeJong promised a return to more prescribed burning to mitigate the kinds of wildfires and destruction he was seeing under his watch. But his word fell against regulatory obstacles, institutional inertia and the public’s refusal to accept some artificial smoke as part of our forest management regime. Very little prescribed burning got done since on the province’s public land. Interestingly our national parks through their own foresight and determination often exceeded hectares treated provincially. Now smoke is driving the forest management conversation again. After a second summer of weeks of oppressive smoke settling on the province—and most importantly perhaps, a pall that covered the urban parts as well—our government is now rethinking things related to smoke and fire. It should include returning to prescribed burning.

At this month’s Union of BC Municipalities annual convention Premier John Horgan asked delegates for ideas to mitigate the impacts of the many more run-away fire seasons we can expect due to climate change and conditions on the landscape. We would like to propose returning to prescribe burning since it can play a role in reducing fuels and widespread destruction. After recent events the public is likely to be more accepting of the practice. Especially when it comes to better taking the future into account by calculating how some smoke now might be better than far worse smoke later. We would also add how prescribed burning can lead to a more competent contract fire suppression sector since setting and managing controlled burns is a good place to teach and practice fire-fighting skills. This is something important to our members who face challenges recruiting and retaining skilled fire crews. But the existing institutional landscape, the regulatory environment and their conventions will resist change as they have before. They will be aided also by the loss of controlled burn experience and expertise during the decades-long hiatus on prescribed burning. Nevertheless, the Premier is proposing the right thinking at a time when there is a groundswell of support for better forest and fire management from across the province. That would include the attention of our sometimes parochial urban friends who are just beginning to get it about how we will all be living with wildfire and climate change for some time in B.C.

Briefly Then…

Former MRLNRORD Deputy Minister Tim Sheldan’s Announced Departure earlier this month from the public service seemed all the more abrupt given his pivotal part in the province’s ongoing west coast industry revitalization review. John Allan went from being point man on that process to deputy minister replacing Sheldan and presumably now faces a very full plate; one that comes with a ministry with way too long a name and too wide an ambit. We will miss Tim Sheldan and thank him for his support and his always candid dealings with us at the WFCA. We wish him the best.

The WFCA will host its first provincial wildfire contractor debrief in mid-October at a location to be determined but somewhat central to the far-flung community of employers who once again played a major part in this year’s wildfire emergency. The purpose of the session, which will be open to all service providers besides WFCA members, will be to review what worked and didn’t this year and what contractors and the BC Wildfire Service can do to improve things on both sides of the standing offer. Stay tuned for details…