March 19, 2020
The Honourable Carla Qualtrough
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
House of Commons
Dear Minister Qualtrough,
Yesterday morning, Prime Minister Trudeau and Finance Minister Morneau announced a sweeping support package to address the growing financial and economic needs of Canadians as we face the deepening COVID-19 crisis.
The global pandemic is obviously affecting every sector of the economy, and these impacts are especially troubling for sectors that already face serious challenges. This is true for the forestry sector, where the ongoing softwood lumber dispute has already led to lay-offs and unemployment, even before COVID-19 reached our shores. It is critical that, as the federal government rolls out much needed support for Canadians affected by this crisis, that you also turn your attention to programs that are already providing needed support for vulnerable workers.
The softwood lumber worker support package, including the Work-Sharing Program, is set to expire on March 28, 2020. Reports on the ground indicate the program has been a success so far – in BC alone, we’ve heard that Work-Sharing has helped mitigate 1200 job losses. Further, if current applications are approved, another 500 jobs will be saved.
We note that in response to the COVID-19 crisis, ESDC has implemented temporary special measures regarding the Work-Sharing Program, effective March 15, 2020 to March 14, 2021. We are hoping to have clarity on the question of whether these special measures are available to employers in the forestry and steel and aluminum sectors as well. Otherwise, the March 28th deadline for the forestry sector is fast approaching, and we have serious concerns that the winding-up of the program will have negative impacts on affected forestry workers. In fact, our recommendation is that, for the forestry sector specifically, ESDC extend the Work-Share Program indefinitely, until the softwood lumber crisis is finally resolved. As you know, in many rural areas forestry jobs are the life-blood of their communities, and as other sectors feel the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative that governments do everything they can to support these vital jobs.