Sandy Davidson, a South Cariboo resident, is asking former forestry workers using the Bridging to Retirement Program to write letters to Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett after the program has forbidden her husband and others to be an employee of any kind.
Davidson’s husband, Rob, was a mill worker at West Fraser’s Chasm mill until it closed down. Based on the government’s own online information page in October, 2019 to receive bridge funding, employees would have to agree to “not return to work in B.C.’s forestry sector for a period of at least eighteen (18) months.” However, when the final paperwork came in, that had changed. Looking at the webpage now, it says “agree not to return to work in the B.C. forestry sector or in any other work as an employee for 18 months unless it is working for your own business.”
Davidson says they’d been working under the assumption that he would have been able to take a lower-paying, probably part-time job, whether that was at a gas station or grocery store, while leaving any higher paying forestry jobs for younger workers.
According to the Ministry of Labour, they clarified the language on the website to reduce confusion and make a clear distinction between the current program and what they may remember from the 2008 program. They further add that while the website’s information was initially imprecise, the official bridging applications form reflected the correct information.
“I’m thankful for the money we were given, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to cause trouble but how is someone supposed to survive on $40,000 for 18 months when you have a mortgage to pay? Because that’s what we ended up with and others are going to get less,” says Davidson. “All these people we know saw that it said ‘cannot be an employee in the forest sector’ and it got changed to ‘cannot be an employee of any kind.’”
Davidson is looking to get it changed back to be specific to the forest sector, which she says they understand. The only way to make money now is cash under the table, which isn’t right, or you become a contractor of some sort, says Davidson.
“Well, some of these guys are like 58, 60. What are they going to become a contractor of? Especially in a town where there’s all of these people out of work. They wanted to become like a parttime employee … to tie them over with the bridge funds until they could access their pension and they stepped aside for younger families.”
They didn’t transfer or use their seniority, she says.
“He’s sort of a nervous wreck because he thought he could get a parttime job. He already interviewed for jobs and was offered a couple of jobs but had to wait for this bridge [funding] to, you know, fall into place or whatever was going to happen.”
The other thing they don’t understand, Davison notes, is that despite paying into both Employment Insurance Benefits (EI) and severancefor years, and in some cases decades, they won’t be able to get EI because of severance.
“Now he can’t even be an employee of any kind… You need to supplement that bridge. And, the EI funds are separate from severance. Why can’t he get EI funds?” she says. “Now they’re handcuffed completely. We don’t know how we’re going to make it.”
Davidson is asking anyone who is affected to send letters to Barnett.
“We’re just trying to get that changed back to what it was originally intended for.”
Barnett says she would like to see the whole process stopped.
“How you can tell a person that if they take this funding that they can’t go to work for 18 months. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I would also like to see the numbers,” she says. “I heard numbers from the Minister on Thursday how many had applied but I don’t know how many are being granted,” she says. “To me, it’s quite a mess.”
When Barnett brought it up in question period, Minister Harry Bains noted they’d had 810 applications with 248 having benefited from the pension bridging plan.
“Since we launched the 2019 Bridging to Retirement Program, the eligibility has remained the same throughout,” Baines said in an email to the 100 Mile Free Press.
The program is meant to create a bridge for older workers to retirement, according to Baines, and is not meant to take the place of severance pay negotiated between workers and employers.
“There’s good reason we did this, too; by retiring, you’re creating a job vacancy that allows room for others starting out their careers or mid-career to remain employed. If you retire early with funds to help bridge you to retirement, then turn around and take another job, even in another sector, it’s one less job for someone else in the community who isn’t near retirement or didn’t receive the public support to retire.”