By: The Working Forest Staff
CBC NEWS — The province is making $5 million available in loans to help contractors who are in danger of losing their equipment due to a forest industry strike on Vancouver Island.
According to CBC News, B.C. Premier John Horgan says the program for struggling contractors will be available by the end of January, along with bridge loans, to help workers save the equipment they need to work.
He announced the funding Thursday during a speech to forest industry contractors at the annual Truck Loggers Association (TLA) convention in Vancouver.
Horgan spent much of his speech addressing the labour dispute between Western Forests Products and the Steelworkers union, saying the seven-month strike is unprecedented in B.C. history. He urged both sides to negotiate a settlement.
TLA vice-president Bill Nelson said fleets of logging trucks will need inspection, insurance and fuel when the call back to work comes and the cost will be insurmountable for most contractors who have not had work since the strike began in July.
“People who have worked generations to get where they are today are being forced to sell things or everything, and may not have the kind of money it’s going to take to get their employees and equipment back to work,” said Nelson in an interview on CBC’s On The Island.
About 3,000 union members on Vancouver Island are on strike, many of the residents of northern Island communities.
Leaders in those communities say this money helps to a degree — but getting back to work is what really matters.
“We’d hoped that there would be something a little more concrete,” Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom said. She said the loaned money will be hard for contractors to pay back because people have already deferred mortgages and medical payments and are falling further and further into debt.
She said she has written letters to her MLA and Forestry Minister Doug Donaldson, but “nothing seems to be sinking in.”
“We’ve done what we possibly can do, and we are trying to speak out for those people who are caught in the crossfire,” said Wickstrom. “Western [Forest Products] will recover, the union will recover, but we are at the point now where we are saying the ordinary people may not recover.”
Wickstrom said a charity campaign called Loonies for Loggers has raised $110,000 since the strike started to help people with food hampers and financial assistance in 23 Island communities.
Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams said the $5 million was “a good start” but urged Horgan to intercede and get the parties back to the bargaining table and come to a resolution.
“Listening is good, but we need action,” said Adams.
Donaldson will address contractors at the convention Friday.
See more HERE.