Millworkers who applied for early retirement bridging payments arising from a provincial aid package announced last year began receiving letters the end of December informing them if they’ve met the criteria.
More than 600 applications were received by millworkers from around the province who want to take advantage of the program intended to bridge any gap by retiring now until they qualify for regular pension benefits.
Exactly how many millworkers might be eligible isn’t known but the provincial government does say an aid program announced last year stands to benefit approximately 3,000 workers affected by permanent or temporary mill closures.
Workers at Canfor in Houston have been idled by a series of temporary closures beginning in late 2018 followed by a Friday closure as of last October.
The mill opened this week after a two-week extended Christmas shutdown.
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, indicates the province.
Depending upon a worker’s individual situation, up to $75,000 could be available if deciding to retire earlier than otherwise planned.
The intent is also to creating vacancies that provide an opportunity for a younger worker to remain in the workforce.
A worker who decides to retire early must be at least 55 years of age and has 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 create a skills shortage at the worker’s place of employment.
While the province said $40 million has been commited to early retirement payments, the dollar value is to be cost shared between it and participating companies.
As of late 2019, however, no cost sharing agreement has been settled between the province and companies.
Additonally, the province has set aside money for skills training of affected workers.