College instructors and forest workers join forces to sound the alarm: budget turns a blind eye on job crisis
"I don't know what happened to their so-called Heartland strategy, but the latest provincial budget is completely ignoring the mounting job crisis we see in the Central Interior," said Cindy Oliver, President of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE). Oliver is in Prince George to speak at a public forum set for 5 p.m. March 11 at the College of New Caledonia (CNC). She will share the podium with two other speakers: Brian Harder, provincial representative for the United Steelworkers and Peter Ewart from the Stand Up for the North community coalition. The Steelworkers represent thousands of woodworkers in the Central Interior and are concerned about the lack of any programs in the latest provincial budget to deal with job losses in that sector.
"CNC has just announced layoffs of faculty at that institution. Mills in the Central Interior are shutting down, some permanently. Towns and entire regions are at risk. At the very least, people need training and skills to adjust to some of the massive changes we are seeing in this region, but the provincial budget has no strategy or plan to help make any of that possible. Instead, we are seeing funding cuts and inaction from the provincial government," said Oliver. "What they are trying to pull off at CNC is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of their response to problems here in the Prince George area," Oliver added.
"The current crisis in our industry means that forest workers are taking it on the chin and many of the BC government's forest policies are making matters worse," said Harder. "The Forest Act changes made in 2003 and the softwood lumber agreement are just two examples of how the provincial government has undermined forest industry jobs. Whether it's their hands-off approach to controlling log exports or their unwillingness to challenge forest companies bent on permanently closing mills, the BC government has no plan to deal with the current crisis. The only idea that Premier Campbell has is to convene a round table discussion with forest industry executives. Tthe same people who brought us log exports and mill closures are going to give the Premier some new ideas? I don't think so," said Harder.
"We need the government to get involved and show some leadership," said Oliver. "Handing out layoff notices sends exactly the wrong signal. Why not target regions like the Central Interior with the support they need to weather this current crisis? Why not provide workers with an opportunity to upgrade their skills during a downturn rather than just abandon them when they need help the most? Why not use public institutions like CNC to be part of the solution rather than just another place where layoff notices are making the rounds," said Oliver. "Yes, those are thinking-outside-the-box ideas, but that's what this region needs right now and they certainly didn't get any of it in the latest BC budget," Oliver concluded.
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Federation of Post Secondary Educators
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.