British Columbia

Ex-forestry worker frustrated with terms of retirement bridging program

A forestry worker who used to work at the now-shuttered West Fraser Chasm mill is upset about the terms of a retirement bridging program offered by the provincial government.

'It almost feels like it was a carrot put out there that they took away,' says wife of worker

Rob Davidson, 55, was a mill worker at the West Fraser Chasm mill until it was shut down in September 2019. (Erik White/CBC )

A former forestry is frustrated with a retirement bridging program offered by the provincial government, saying the terms of the program have changed since first applying for it. 

Rob Davidson, 55, lost his job as a worker at the West Fraser Chasm mill, located between Clinton and 70 Mile House, when it closed last September

He wasn't alone; that mill closure came as thousands of B.C. forestry workers were out of jobs, with several other companies announcing mill closures and other cutbacks to their operations.

In response, the provincial government extended relief in the form of a $69-million aid package that included early retirement assistance, skills training, and new job placement co-ordination. 

Davidson, who had worked at the since-shuttered mill for 28 years, thought he would be a good candidate for the province's retirement bridging program. Sandy Davidson, Rob's wife, worked on the application for their family and calculated they would qualify for a certain amount of compensation in exchange for not working in the forestry sector for 18 months. 

According to her calculations, the family would get around $650 a month for five years until Rob's pension kicked in. She thought Rob would be able to get a part-time job to supplement that income. 

"We would have been fine [with that]," Davidson said. "But now he's not allowed to even do that."

She says the program now says the prohibition on working extends beyond the forestry sector: workers cannot work in any sector for 18 months. 

"I'm a printer and a saver. So I have everything from when I first applied for this, and it clearly said on the government site cannot work in forestry," Davidson said.

B.C.'s Ministry of Labour says the website's information was initially imprecise, it was corrected within the first few days. The application forms, it says, were correct.

Harry Bains, the minister of labour, says the program isn't meant to take the place of severance pay, but to support older workers into retirement.

"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," Bains said in an emailed statement.

But it's not an explanation Sandy Davidson finds satisfying.

"It almost feels like it was a carrot put out there that they took away."

With files from Daybreak Kamloops

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