Sunday, August 24, 2008

MLA urges forestry workers to investigate initiatives available to them

With the forestry indsutry suffering an ongoing crisis, the local MLA for the North Coast Gary Coons is looking for workers in that industry to contact his office to see if they qualify for a number of initiatives that are currently in place.

While admitting that the solution isn't a perfect remedy to the situation, Coons did think that some of the workers may find help to a new career or assistance in taking a retirement package.

The Daily News outlined his thoughts and the different programs available in their July 31st edition.

Initiatives aimed at forestry workers
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Thursday, July 31, 2008

North Coast MLA Gary Coons wants forestry workers to grab the money that is made available to them through a new retirement assistance program.

Coons urged any forestry workers older than 55 to apply for the program that assists current and former forestry workers transition from life in the woods to other careers and retirement.
"Our office can print the forms out for anyone who thinks they may be eligible, and we can help them fill them out," said Coons. "It would be a real shame for anyone to miss this chance to get a little help on the way to retirement."

Coons' comments came out the same day as more comments from the forestry worker unions about a return of the Northern Living Allowance and longer employment insurance benefits.
A letter from the Stand Up for the North Committee, Concerned Citizens of Mackenzie and Concerned Citizens of Fort St. James, was sent to local MPs on June 13. The letter asked MPs to look in to lengthening the amount of time a forestry worker can claim EI.

Currently, Canadians can only claim EI for 45 weeks. But because of the economic struggles facing the forestry industry, there is wide-spread fear that smaller communities like Mackenzie and Fort St. James will be in a battle to survive. The tri-group would like to see that period lengthened.

"Businesses are closing down, workers are leaving and the tax base is eroding. Residents are quite understandably upset," said Alf Wilkins, who is the spokesperson for the three groups who sent the letter, and is also a laid-off forestry worker. "Time is running out fast for many workers and communities."

Fear might be increasing in forestry communities but there have been subsidies allocated to both Fort St. James and Mackenzie. Both towns were each allocated $2 million in May through the Community Development Trust-Transition to Retirement Program, a $129 million federal initiative that is distributed by the provincial government to help. On Tuesday, the city of Smithers was able to secure $300,000 from the provincial government to help employ laid-off forestry workers to work on city-led projects for improving recreational trails and thinning and spacing tree stands.

For Coons, this means it is good time for retiring forestry workers to claim up to $65,000 in taxable assistance money. The income can be paid out in different ways, including Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP).

"It's been tough for a lot of older workers in this struggling industry," said Coons. "This project isn't perfect but it may help some workers."

Anyone with questions can contact the program administrators at 1-877-238-8882. To apply for the program at Coon's office, it is at 818 Third Ave. West, Prince Rupert.

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