VICTORIA – Since 2019, the Bridging to Retirement Program has been a high-demand, crucial support for displaced forestry workers in the Interior, especially as it came as the industry was facing downturns and hard times.
The program supports older workers in retiring early so they can remain in their communities. The program has enabled employers to engage with their workers to support early retirement, while creating jobs for younger workers and, ultimately, helping mills survive. The program has been such a success that it has reached the maximum number of applications for the final year’s $4 million in funding.
“I know first-hand, from my years working in a mill, just how difficult economic slumps can be on the people and communities that rely on forest industry jobs,” said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour. “It has been gratifying to see the strong uptake in the Bridging to Retirement Program over the last 18 months.”
To date, the Bridging to Retirement Program has helped more than 1,000 workers retire early, providing about $46 million in benefits, and creating over 500 forestry jobs for workers who are in the early stages of their careers. In the Interior region alone, almost 840 workers have made the transition to retirement, with over $29 million paid out so far.
“This program has been very positive in several ways,” Bains said. “Older workers have the choice to retire earlier than they may have thought feasible. It gives them the option to stay within their own communities if they wish and support their local economies. It has opened opportunities for younger workers who may have been struggling to find good employment, and it has helped forestry companies adjust to current challenges. Without these kinds of support, many workplaces would have been forced to close – and then everyone loses.”
The Bridging to Retirement Program has been one of a series of measures that government has undertaken to support an industry struggling from mill closures, curtailments, an overall economic downturn and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other supports include retraining and job placement programs for workers, which have both had strong uptake.
The Interior forest industry was particularly hard hit by the challenges of the last few years. Bains said province’s measures combined with rising lumber prices and global demand for wood and soft-pulp products – including pandemic medical supplies – are contributing to the industry’s recovery. Over the past year, 41 mills that were closed or curtailed have resumed operations, bringing almost 7,500 people back to work, he added.