BC budget has little for forest workers -steelworkers

    BURNABY, BC, Feb. 17 /CNW/ - United Steelworkers (USW) Western Canada
Director Stephen Hunt says there is nothing in the BC budget for the thousands
of forest workers who have no jobs or whose livelihoods are threatened.
    "There is clearly a crisis, acknowledged in the dramatic decline of
forest revenues in the budget predictions," said Hunt. "But the government is
still not taking action to assist workers, re-tool the wood manufacturing
industry or properly reforest areas devastated by the mountain pine beetle."
    Hunt said the budget does not include any significant programs to help
extend Employment Insurance (EI) for forest workers; does not earmark any new
money for training and worker adjustment; and makes no mention of a strategy
for aggressive and enhanced silviculture and reforestation to deal with the
mountain pine beetle epidemic and other forest health needs.
    Last week, the USW joined with the Communications, Energy and
Paperworkers Union (CEP) and the BC Federation of Labour to call for immediate
action to address the crisis in the forest industry and forest-dependent
communities. Layoffs in the BC industry have exceeded 20,000 workers, while
some 54 wood processing mills have permanently closed since 2001.
    In a letter to BC Premier Gordon Campbell, the unions called for a
provincial extension of EI to address thousands of forest workers facing
exhaustion of EI coverage; the building of an effective forest worker training
program to provide up to two years of income replacement and tuition for
skills upgrading that will help workers remain in the industry and in their
communities; a silviculture and reforestation plan that will employ laid-off
forest workers and invest in the long-term health and sustainability of BC's
forests; and the provision of direct financial assistance to resource-based
communities to participate in infrastructure programs offered by senior levels
of government.
    "Instead of new programs or new ideas to stimulate the economy and
revitalize one industry, the government talks about the Community Development
Trust (CDT), which is federal government money that has already been announced
and re-announced," said Hunt.
    The Minister of Finance indicated the possibility of $30-million for
"CDT-like" programs, to hopefully be matched by the federal government, but
indicated it would be extended to "other resource industries" beyond the
forest sector.
    "The CDT has done little to assist our members who are running out of EI
and being forced to leave their communities to find meaningful work. Vague
promises from the minister don't give much hope to the thousands of forest
workers who were looking for much more from this government during this
unprecedented crisis," said Hunt.

    Canada's most diverse union, the USW represents 250,000 men and women
working in every sector of the economy.

For further information:

For further information: Stephen Hunt, (604) 683-1117; (604) 816-2554

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