Canfor officials spent last week finishing up the necessary paperwork to have the company’s employees affected by the four-day week work schedule at its mill here qualify for federal employment insurance benefits through a workshare program.
In conjunction with the company’s unionized workforce through the United Steelworkers Union, a successful application would have employees here and at Canfor’s Plateau mill near Vanderhoof, which is also on a four-day week, be eligible to participate, says company official Michelle Ward.
“At Houston we have approximately 290 hourly employees and 270 at Plateau,” she said last week.
Both mills are on a four-day week schedule for the foreseeable future following a week-long closure at the beginning of the month.
The reduced work week and the week-long closure follow a series of temporary closures beginning late last year, a response the company says to high logging costs, a shortage of fibre, low product prices and the continuing effects of American softwood lumber tariffs.
The closure day is to be Fridays but last Friday the Houston planer was running and will be running again this Friday to reduce rough inventory, said Ward.
“Maintenance and clean up crews will work on Fridays as required,” she added.
Workshare through the federal Service Canada department would have employees paid standard employment insurance benefits for the times they are not working.
The standard workshare program length has to be at least six consecutive weeks and normally can can last for a total of 38 weeks. But Service Canada has extended the maximum length to 76 weeks for workers in the forestry sector and steel and aluminum sectors.
Service Canada guidelines describe a work-sharing unit as a “group of employees with similar job duties who agree to reduce their hours of work over a specific period of time. The unit generally includes all employees in a single job description or all employees who perform similar work.”
The program is designed so that “employers and employees avoid layoffs when there is a temporary decrease in business activity beyond the control of the employer. The program provides EI benefits to eligible employees who agree to reduce their normal working hours and share the available work while their employer recovers,” Service Canada guidelines continue.
“Note that the employer and the employees (and the union, if applicable) must agree to participate in a work-sharing agreement, and must apply together.”
Ward said individual employees, once a workshare program is approved, can opt out if they so wish.