Members of the United Steelworkers union are calling on the federal government to urgently update the Softwood Lumber Action Plan, released in 2017. This assistance package is needed now to help stem the tide of job loss and stabilize and grow the sector for the future.
The new Softwood Lumber Action Plan must include the following areas:
1. Change EI so severance packages do not go against Employment Insurance
Workers have been denied EI claims even though they have contributed for years to EI. Enhanced negotiated severance packages were never meant to prevent access to EI benefits. Unionized workers should not be penalized due to the provisions they were able to negotiate in their collective agreements.
2. Vacation entitlement should not go against EI claims
Currently, vacation entitlements are counted against workers’ ability to access EI if they are laid off. This penalizes workers for being in the unfortunate situation of not having used up their vacation time prior to being laid off.
3. Lower the eligible hours for second EI claims
Many forestry workers have been subjected to multiple rounds of layoffs. But they may not have accumulated enough hours at work before being laid off the second time, and therefore do not qualify for EI. Workers deserve to have a reduction in eligible hours for second EI claims. The federal government did grant such a provision for the oil patch in 2015.
4. Provide loan guarantees to companies that have paid duties
As part of a sustainable economic strategy, loan guarantees to forestry companies must be made available, equalling 75% of the amount they have paid in duties. Many small mills are suffering from weak cash flow. Quebec has already provided such a loan guarantee.
5. Work to end the Softwood Lumber Dispute with the U.S.
This is a trade dispute that is not justified in an integrated market such as forestry. It was not addressed in the negotiations for the Canada-US-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) and remains “unfinished business” in trade relations with the U.S.