Twenty forest industry workers in the Houston area have taken advantage of a provincial government program so that they could retire early and receive an income until their regularly-scheduled pension and other payments began.
The idea was to provide an incentive for people nearing retirement age to leave their jobs and make room for younger workers just starting or early on in their working lives.
Depending upon a worker’s individual situation, up to $75,000 was available if deciding to retire earlier than otherwise planned.
In Houston, the early retirement incentive cost came to $880,000.
The early retirement and other assistance programs such as retraining were crafted in 2019 through an allocation of nearly $70 million ending in 2022 and were in response to province-wide temporary or permanent closures of sawmills across the province beginning in 2018.
Workers at the Canfor mill here and at Canfor’s Plateau mill near Vanderhoof went through a series of extended closures with the company saying costs tied to American lumber tariffs and the high price of raw material in B.C. outstripped its ability to make a profit.
Canfor also closed its Isle Pierre mill east of Vanderhoof permanently, citing a diminishing log supply.
Early retirement was also chosen by 44 workers affected by temporary or permament closures in the Vanderhoof area. The cost was $1.76 million dollars.
A worker who decided to retire early must have been at least 55 years of age and have worked in a B.C. mill for the last two consecutive years and have been affected by closures since May 2019.
The worker must also agree to permanently vacate his or her position, give up seniority and not return to work in a B.C. forestry job for at least 18 months.
The retirement must also not have created a skills shortage at the worker’s place of employment.
The province also opened up employment offices in 100 Mile House, Fort St. James, Fort St. John, Mackenzie and Clearwater.
Provincial information indicates more than 1,000 people in more than 100 communities took advantage of early retirement, creating space for 400 younger forestry workers.
The early retirement program is worth $50 million of the nearly $70 million committed to the forestry worker assistance program.
More than 600 applications were received by millworkers from around the province who wanted to take advantage of the early retirement bridging program.
As of the end of 2019, there have been four permanent mill closures, affecting between 500 to 700 workers and 13 indefinite closures affecting around 1,000 workers.