Millworkers now eligible for employment assistance

Federal program approved as of Nov. 17

Canfor workers here idled on Fridays when the sawmill isn’t operating can now begin collecting federal employment insurance benefits for the day they aren’t on the job.

Canfor submitted its application for the program earlier this fall but only received word this month that benefits would be paid effective Nov. 17, company official Michelle Ward says.

Employees could opt out if they wished with a deadline for that also being Nov. 17, she added.

“At Houston we have about 300 employees and 275 at Plateau [near Vanderhoof]. All employees are eligible. We’ve had about 75 employees at each mill opt out of the program,” Ward continued.

And should Canfor take further action to temporarily close the two mills, eligible employees can collect EI benefiits on those days operations are curtailed.

Based on information about the program provided by the federal government, Ward indicated benefits are processed through the EI payment system and it may take up to 28 days for people to receive their first cheque.

Benefits are paid are based on the employee’s normal average weekly earnings.

As well, employees are required to report to work as it becomes available, Ward noted.

In the meantime, employees eligible for another program, a provincial government one that provides money for those who wish early retirement, are starting to file applications.

It’s meant to bridge the time from retiring early until normal pension payments begin.

There are eligibility requirements and the program is meant for workers at mills that are now either permanently closed or going through temporary shutdowns.

Up to $75,000 is available for an employee retiring earlier than what might have been the case otherwise. Exactly how much a person might receive is based on age, years on the job and an employer’s contribution.

The early retirement incentive is also aimed at opening a position up for a younger employee.

Announced in September in response to a continuing series of mill permanent or temporary closures, the province said the early retirement bridging program is worth $40 million, a figure that is to be cost-shared with participating companies. To date, no cost-sharing deal has been reached.

The provincial jobs ministry, which is running the program, hasn’t released how many people have applied at each affected mill, but did say it is processing more than 400 applications from around the province.

“There have been four permanent mill closures, affecting between 500 to 700 workers and 13 indefinite closures affecting around 1,000 workers,” the ministry stated.

”Including curtailments, 3,000 workers can benefit from the suite of programs.”

That “suite of programs” is a reference to job retraining monies and grants to remove trees and other material which could form fire hazards to adjacent communities.

Those programs were also announced by the province in September.

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