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Western Forestry Contractors’ Association
Rumour Mill RoundUpDate
2 June 2023
Volume 23 Issue 6

Warning: None of the facts in this publication will be modified by the adjective “unprecedented” owing to its over-use in describing recent weather, climate, disaster, and related topics often covered by our reporting.

WFCA Asks For Spring Planting Extension Due To Weather Delays

Last month’s early heat dome with its inflamed isobars on this North America weather map of temperature anomalies—just one of a number of weather-driven disruptions, so far, for the spring planting season in BC and Alberta.

We won’t say 2023’s spring weather has been unprecedented. In fact, there have been many precedents, predictions, portents and, maybe even, some prodigies that have anticipated the climate change-driven events besetting this spring’s planting campaign in British Columbia and Alberta. We have had snowmelt delays, heat domes, floods, wildfires, mudslides, drought, and smoke upset our seasonal reforestation campaigns before. But this year they are like bananas; they’re coming in bunches. Even this pattern has been foreseen. These upsets are the effects of a warming planet settling into our affairs. Weather extremes and their consequences are not unprecedented as much as they are stochastic— meaning random and probable, but not predictable. In this uncertain environment, managers will need more space in their imaginations and plans for contingencies.

Because of delays and time lost due to weather this spring—combined with an unfortunate breakdown of a major seedling cold storage facility setting off another train of cascading consequences for crews and plans—the WFCA has asked ministry officials to adjust contract deadlines and consider extending the interior spring planting window beyond its 21 June end, if practicable. In making the request the WFCA asked that every reasonable effort be made to plant seedlings, even after deadlines, rather than ending contracts and discouraging workers with a shortened season. The association also made the point that disruptions to production in one part of the province can have consequences later at other locations because of the service supply chain: a point some administrators may not appreciate. The ministry says it will take this spring’s conditions into account and adjudicate adjusting contracts on an individual basis.

B.C.’s Minimum Wage Rises Costing Contractors

Calculations for minimum wage for piecework are complicated being earnings are averaged over a pay period. The above table shows a typical series of workdays calculated “portal-to-portal” from when a worker leaves camp and returns from work. In this example the minimum wage earnings that an employer might have to top-up a piece-worker’s earnings at $16.75/hr is $2051.88 for the pay period, plus any stat or holiday pay applicable.

The animating idea behind tree-planting and other silviculture piece-work remuneration is that workers will take their feck, grit, and endurance and apply them to their tasks sufficiently to earn themselves a premium for their exceptional exertions. The Marxist view is that this is small-scale Capitalism allowing employers to create conditions that encourage workers to exploit themselves, to the benefit of their bosses. Entrepreneurial meritocrats see this as an incentive system that directly and justly rewards employees for their efforts. Either way, the system generally works, according to the last six decades of paying workers by the number of trees planted, or hectares treated. For the system to work best, employers must ensure rates and conditions that will allow employees to earn well above what the rest of the labour market, including minimum wage, can offer.

That distance may have closed a little with the recent increase of B.C.’s minimum wage to $16.75 per hour. In most cases, employers don’t need to “Mind The Gap” when it comes to minimum wage and their average and above average earners. When it hurts, is topping-up new trainees’ wages over a pay period when inevitably their piece-work earnings fall below minimum wage as they learn to plant. The annual turnover in the planting sector is estimated at around 20 per cent, meaning almost one thousand new workers may be entering the sector each year requiring minimum wage top-ups for at least one or two pay periods. That cost burden, according to anecdotal reports, has been growing already as we hear that today’s workers may be taking longer to gain skills and work hard to step over the minimum wage gap. With the new minimum wage, training new workers just got more expensive.

WFCA Looking For Silviculture Labour Force Strategy Project Manager

Increasing the size, diversity, and skills of the British Columbia silviculture labour force is one of the major goals of its sector labour force strategy.

Last year the Western Forestry Contractors’ Association with funding from the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement completed its Labour Market Strategy For the Silviculture Industry. This year the WFCA intends to begin implementing it. In broad terms the strategy’s purpose is to increase the capacity, social diversity, skills and career opportunities of the sector comprising tree planting and other silviculture contractors, seedling nurseries, independent forestry consultants and wildfire management contract crews. It will support workers and employers as our province changes its forest management regimes and adapts to climate change. It will also work to ensure opportunities for indigenous people and others from across Canada’s increasingly diverse population. It will continue to advance the sector in creating welcoming, respectful, and safe workplaces. To assist the WFCA with this strategy the WFCA is looking for a project manager to oversee delivering the project’s work over the next two to three years. For more information, click here.