FROM JEFF BROMLEY, CHAIR OF THE USW WOOD COUNCIL
CAMPAIGN TO PROTECT FORESTRY WORKERS BEING HEARD BY OTTAWA
The USW Wood Council campaign to protect forestry workers through the pandemic and beyond is beginning to be reflected in proposed changes to Employment Insurance (EI). Commitments were made in the Speech from the Throne, which marked the re-opening of Parliament in September.
At the same time, the union is continuing to call for government to put a priority on ending the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S.
Some of the EI changes came forward in earlier interim orders and all of the changes will make it easier for our 14,000 forest industry members to access EI benefits – at least in the short term.
As we have told MPs throughout the summer, our members have literally been short-changed by rules that deny them access to EI even after many years of service and paying into the program.
I believe we should welcome the orders that ensure workers will not be held back from EI benefits if they receive negotiated severance packages or have outstanding vacation pay when they are laid off. An earlier interim order also reduces the number of eligible hours workers must have before making an EI claim. This is particularly problematic when workers are in a cycle of multiple rounds of layoffs.
MAKE CHANGES PERMANENT
The drawback is that these are all one-time or temporary access changes to the Employment Insurance Act. To make them work and make income protection more secure, these provisions must become permanent. That is what we want implemented so that government programs are modernized to respond to our industry as well as to the increasingly uncertain future of employment security in 21st century Canada.
The USW position has always been that enhanced negotiated severance packages were never meant to prevent access to EI benefits. As well, workers should never be penalized for not having used up their vacation allotment prior to being laid off.
COLLECTIVE BARGAINING ALL ABOUT RAISING STANDARDS
Our collective agreements are intended to be better than minimum rights established in employment standards legislation. Workers and their communities must not be held hostage to laws that, instead of assisting them in tough times, punish them for doing an honest day’s work. That is our bottom line and we are continuing to stress that in ongoing meetings with MPs and their staff.
We are saying clearly that the announced access to EI under the current interim orders must be established as a permanent standard in EI legislation.
All Canadians need to know they are protected, pandemic or no pandemic. EI rules that do not do so on a permanent basis are not worth the paper they are written on.
END THE SOFTWOOD LUMBER DISPUTE WITH U.S.
In addition to seeking improved EI protection, we are also asking MPs to make ending the softwood lumber dispute a priority. We also want to ensure that billions of dollars in duties being held in limbo at the Canada-US border be used to backstop loan guarantees to forestry companies equaling 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.
However, this support to companies has to come with the condition that jobs be maintained and created in Canada -- for Canadians.
I am hoping that meetings with the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) will give us another ally in lobbying MPs in the coming months. More on that in the next UPDATE.
YOU CAN HELP
Several of our members have participated in the Zoom calls we have been having with MPs when they are able. If you are interested in doing your part in this campaign, please reach out to me by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or the campaign website: https://www.forestryisforeveryone.ca/contact
Or call me at 604-205-1110.