A Contractor’s Perspective on the Growing Coastal Forest Industry
By Monty Hussey
As Rick Jeffery notes in “Coastal forest industry on the rise after decade of struggle,” published in the Times Colonist on June 6, “We are now having trouble finding contractors and workers.”
I know why that is. Simply put, a large part of the coastal contracting sector is going broke as the major companies ride the wave of prosperity of the so-called super cycle.
Having been involved in contract logging for all of my life, I can say one thing on behalf of all the coastal contractors who work on BC’s coast. We just want the opportunity to work. We want to provide stable jobs for our crews, to make sure our employees are safe, to pay the bills we incur and to ensure the communities we live in are supported. It is not complicated.
What is complicated, however, is operating a successful contracting business in an industry where a few companies control most of the contract logging opportunities.
If we look at the oil and gas or mining industries, there are many companies operating in these sectors and this creates a real market for contractors’ services. In those sectors a contractor can offer his services to a variety of companies and work for the one that offers the best remuneration.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the forest contractors on BC’s coast. There are only a few licensees (companies who own the licence to harvest trees) operating on the coast and as a result there isn’t a true market for contractors’ rates. And there are no other sectors, such as oil and gas or mining, for contractors to turn to on the coast.
While the licensees are making a healthy profit, the cut-to-the-bone recession rates many paid their logging contractors over the last several years are remaining stagnant and there’s no talk of the rates improving. In fact some licensees are adding continued pressure to lower the rates even further. As a result, many contractors are still on the edge of bankruptcy and many others have already fallen by the wayside — even though the forest sector as a whole is on the upswing.
This is difficult for logging contractors — often small, family-owned businesses — who have hunkered down to weather the storm but now need to reinvest in equipment and reward employees who stuck with them during the lean years.
The examples of our plight are many. I know one contractor who would give away his logging contract if someone would take it, but there are no takers. Another had to inject his personal savings back into his company for the first time in 20 years. Few coastal contactors can secure financing for equipment, operating expenses or to buy out others out who want to leave.
As I welcome the new government in Victoria, I believe a priority should be leveling the playing field between those who control tenure and the many contractors who provide local employment in our coastal communities and are beholden to them. This is a public resource and opportunity should be shared more equitably with local logging contractors who directly support local communities. We need policy that allows contractors to participate in a rising market for our forest products and policy that allows for financing of contractor companies.
While we know what we want, solutions are not easy. Without change, however, the prosperity that we are all counting on as the super-cycle comes will simply pass by coastal contractors and the communities we live in — only benefiting those few corporations who control the resource.
Monty Hussey is a Powell River contract logger and he sits on the board of directors of The Truck Loggers Association.