Office closures, ministry layoffs opened door to abusive forestry contractors: BCGEU

August 12, 2010

Forest and Range ministry office closures and staff layoffs starting in 2003 have reduced staff’s ability to monitor contractors, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union said today, in response to news reports of workers abuse by forestry contractors.

The BC Liberal government initiated a reorganization of the Forest and Range Ministry in 2003 – closing district offices in communities like Golden and laying off staff who monitor and enforce ministry contracts, which contain standard language requiring minimum living conditions for camp workers.

“It’s not rocket science. If we have fewer bodies on the ground and virtually no presence in communities where the work is being done, we won’t have reliable monitoring and enforcement,” says BCGEU Environmental, Technical and Operational Component chair Byron Goerz, who has more than a decade of tree planting experience and who authored a book on the subject.

With the district office in Golden closed, the area is now administered from Vernon. Reduced staff, increased workloads and longer travel times mean that ministry officials are unable to completely cover the expanded areas of responsibility.

“Site visits to contract areas are reduced exponentially by every office closure and staff layoff,” says Goerz. “When the local office was open, staff could cover an entire region in a day. Now, they’re lucky to cover off a single area, due to the extra travel time.”

Since forming government in 2001, the Campbell government has eliminated over 1,100 jobs in the Ministry of Forests and Range. This year, 204 more forest ministry jobs are being axed — 62 per cent from compliance and enforcement and field operations. Then, on May 27, the deputy forests minister Dana Hayden confirmed that an additional 42 positions would be eliminated this year.