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Minister Bains in Quesnel with call for worker focus in forestry

Labourers must be forefront in designing new wood world

To remind the delegates in attendance that all innovations and advancements in forestry were firmly built on workers, B.C.’s labour minister was in attendance at the Quesnel Future of Forestry Think Tank.

In a room full of scientists, government officials, educators, forest company principals, funding agents, First Nations representatives and other stakeholders leading the forest industry’s present into its future, Harry Bains drew attention back to the people who would be executing on their vision.

“It’s the forest industry that built the province and it certainly provided my family a very good living standard,” said Bains, whose career trajectory included millworker, safety activist, and union representative, before becoming MLA, opposition critic for the forest industry and natural resource operations, and now cabinet minister. “I know that’s why you’re here - so the forest industry continues to be the foundation of our economy.”

Bains listed the challenges like pine beetle effects, forest fire effects, pandemic and demographic effects that were all reverberating through the forest industry in ways not felt by other industries. “Workers pay a heavy price” for those circumstances, forcing “uprooting to find new jobs” under stress and duress “and I’ve looked them in the eye and seen those families suffer as a result of that.”

Government forest policies must be tied to the employees who do the work on the land, he said, but the private sector must do their part, too. “I sometimes wonder, when we talk about the future of our industry, do they ever have the worker mentioned in their plans? Some do. Some do. But a lot of times the workers are forgotten.”

The think tank meetings in Quesnel were, by their nature, aimed at disruption and innovation of old forestry practices. Bains said these were exciting conversations built on solid ideas, but innovation must always have lines drawn closely to the worker, in the policy development that must go along with developments in timber harvesting, forest regrowth, and new uses for wood. These innovations would trigger new training, re-training, new hardware, company investment decisions, and necessary consultation with First Nations. He outlined how government was already involved in those shifts, and would be there for the next steps not yet taken.

For example, he said, sometime at the end of 2023 or early 2024 would be the next labour relations review for B.C.

“I expect all of you to participate in that review, because the forestry workplace is changing, the laws governing that work have to keep up. We must modernize the relationship between employers and workers.”

Safety was always his first priority, he said. Not only would that ensure the people who go to work at the start of shift also went home to their families at the end of shift, but if companies and governments kept their own focus on the safety of the individual worker, other factors would organically extend from that in corporate and governance decisions. One example he underlined was making sure women were paid the same money for the same work as male counterparts, to unlock the underrepresented female population in trades professions and forestry professions like never before, at a time when the sector needs all the workers it can get.

“The future of forestry affects all of us, and together we are building a stronger and more resilient B.C., and an economy that works for all,” he said.

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