Upgraded video, released in 2017
You'll notice that I often refer to the term “contractor” when I talk about planting companies. That word doesn’t often refer to a single person. Most of the time, it refers to an entire tree planting company. That’s because planting companies don’t plant trees for their own purposes, or on their own lands. Companies are offered a contract to do work planting trees for another organization, hence the term planting contractor.
Within the overall scope of Rules and Regulations, there are many layers that can affect a contractor or an individual planter. First, there is government. There are federal acts within Canada, and provincial acts within the province of British Columbia, both of which apply to companies performing work in BC. In rare instances, there may be other governance regulations that need to be followed, such as municipal regulations when planting within a municipality, or First Nations regulations when planting for a First Nation. Many rules are compliance obligations that apply due to legislative law that has been passed by a government. If you break any laws, either you or the company that you work for could be subject to discipline through either the police and/or the court systems.
Next, there are rules that may be imposed by the entity that is paying to have the trees planted. We’ll call this entity the Client of the planting company. A Client could be a small, family-owned and private lumber mill, a publicly traded corporation such as Canfor or West Fraser, or a government branch such as British Columbia Timber Sales, which is often just called BCTS. These Clients also have to follow all legislative laws, but they can also impose their own additional sets of rules and regulations that are defined when a planting company signs a contract to work for them. Examples of these rules include things like:
- Deadlines for getting work completed.
- Planting quality standards and how they impact payment.
- Density requirements, and how payment is impacted when requirements are not met.
- Stock-handling requirements.
A contract offered to a planting company can be several pages long, with a few dozen clauses, or it can be hundreds of pages long, with thousands of stipulations. The complexity depends on the organization offering the work to the planting contractor. British Columbia has a government website called BC Bid where the public can search for examples of contracts for various past and current projects.
It's important to understand that agents of the provincial government (and other entities) can have multiple sets of rules happening at the same time. For example, if a planting company is working for BCTS, the BCTS staff will ensure that the contractor is following both the legislative laws, such as WorkSafe regulations, and the separate group of project-specific clauses that come into effect through contract law.
Next, a planting company will also have its own set of rules and regulations that apply to all employees. These rules are embedded in the employment contract that all employees sign when they start working for a company. These are the rules that govern employee conduct on the worksite. Some examples of rules created by contractors might include items such as “employees are not allowed to bring firearms to work,” or “employees are not allowed to have open liquor in the cab of a company vehicle.” Be aware that a planting camp is considered to be a worksite.
Finally, there may be a few informal rules that a camp or crew imposes, for the sake of ensuring that everyone gets along better. These would include things like setting a daily quitting time, or picking a time for dinner.
Before I go any further, let me clarify that although some of the rules I'm about to talk about are federal and therefore apply within every province, most of the information that I'm about to present is provincially regulated by the BC government. These laws therefore apply in British Columbia, and may not be applicable in other provinces. For example, if you work for a company that is based in BC, but you work for them on a project in Ontario, then you should become familiar with the rules that are specific to Ontario instead of assuming that the rules there are the same as in BC. However, if you do work in BC for a company that is registered in a different province, the BC rules and employment standards apply. There's a lot of variety as you move from province to province, especially with things such as minimum wage rates, regulations surrounding overtime, and so on.
Employment Standards Act
The Employment Standards Act falls under the purview of the Ministry of Labour. It's designed to ensure that you receive basic minimum standards of pay and employment conditions. The Ministry also publishes a specific set of clarifications that apply to silviculture workers in BC, since our situation is a bit unconventional compared to most labour within the province.
This section is probably the most important information in our entire training series, except of course for the sections on Health and Safety. If you find out that your employer presented information to you from most of this training series but skipped this particular section, be very leery. Your employer may be ignoring some regulations that they hope you don’t find out about. Know your rights!
Let’s look at some of the key sections of BC's Employment Standards Act, as they relate to planters.
You have the right to be told IN ADVANCE what the piece rate is for your planting, in other words, the amount that you'll be paid per properly planted tree. In addition, your hourly pay must meet or exceed the minimum wage for the province, including any higher rates for hours considered as overtime. In BC, anything over forty hours in a week is considered overtime. Also, any hours over eight in a day are considered overtime, even if you don't work forty hours in that week. Your overtime hours are worth 1.5x the amount of regular hours.
You need to keep strict records of the hours that you work, including driving time. This means that your work day starts or you “clock in” from the time that your crew truck pulls out of camp in the morning, until you “clock out” at the time that your truck pulls back into camp for dinner. This calculation is called your “portal-to-portal” hours.
Minimum wage top-up, when required, is calculated on a per-period basis. Pay periods are allowed to be one week long, two weeks long, or twice per month, at the discretion of your company. Almost all companies have two-week long pay periods, because that's the easiest for them from an accounting standpoint. Since top-up requirements are assessed per pay period, let me give a brief example of how that could apply. Let’s say that you work three days in a pay period. Let’s say that for the first two days, you plant $10 less than minimum wage each day. Then, on the third day, you plant $70 more than minimum wage for that day. During the period as a whole, you made a total of $50 more than minimum wage for the total hours worked, so you will not be eligible in this case for top-ups on the two days with daily earnings under minimum wage.
However, your employer is NOT allowed to use earnings from one pay period to offset a minimum wage shortfall in a separate period. Also, you must be paid at least twice per month, which means that an employer cannot claim that a pay period is a month long, or three months long, in order to circumvent the minimum-wage rule. A pay period is not allowed to be more than 16 days long in BC.
All money earned in a pay period must be paid out within eight days after the end of the pay period.
You cannot be forced to work more than five hours in a row without a break of at least thirty minutes. This does not mean that you must sit down and take a break, if you don’t want to. It does, however, mean that if you’re having a hard day and you sit down for thirty minutes in the middle of the day, your company cannot discipline you. A company is NOT allowed to deduct these mandatory meal break hours from hours worked.
Under most circumstances, your shifts may not be longer than five working days followed by a day off. Within a month, you must be given at least two consecutive days off, OR at least eight non-consecutive days off.
Sometimes you'll be working in remote camps, which can be defined as ones with no regular access into and out of the camp. In such a situation, your company is allowed an exemption to the standard work schedule, which means that you can work up to nine days straight as long as you have two consecutive days off afterwards, or you can work up to ten days straight as long as you have four consecutive days off afterwards. However, in order to qualify for those exemptions, two other conditions need to apply. First, more than fifty percent of the employees must have agreed to the schedule in writing, and second, the company must still provide a minimum of eight days off in the month. If you do not get the required number of days off, you are entitled to pay at 1.5x either the regular wage or the piece rate for time worked on the extra days.
An employer may deduct an amount from your gross pay for camp costs, although you must first agree to this in writing. The amount deducted may not exceed $25 plus GST per day if you're living in a camp. If you're living in a motel arranged for by the employer, the amount of camp costs deducted may not exceed the actual cost for the room.
Your employer cannot deduct money from your paycheque to pass along quality penalties that were assessed against the company. Having said that, if you're planting sub-standard quality and it results in a penalty being assessed against your employer, your employer has the recourse of terminating your employment.
Performance bonuses that are promised, such as an “end of season bonus,” must be paid, and cannot be reduced or eliminated for any reason.
An employer cannot charge employees for costs resulting from damage to company property or third-party property, such as motel rooms, unless the employee agrees in writing. Of course, an employer may opt to terminate the employment of an employee who causes such damages, depending on the situation.
An employer is not required to pay for work not performed. A silviculture worker’s pay may be adjusted as a result of an over-tally. In order to do this, the employer must show that the individual over-tallied or over-counted before adjusting pay, perhaps by counting the trees planted in their piece. An employer may not correct an over-claim on a group basis.
Your vacation pay may be paid on every paycheque at a rate of 4% of gross earnings, or it may be paid in a lump sum at the end of the season. You are also entitled to statutory holiday pay. This relates to designated holidays that fall within your season, such as Canada Day. Rather than paying on the actual holiday, an employer is allowed to pay statutory holiday pay by adding 4% of the worker’s gross earnings to every cheque (separate from vacation pay). If this approach is taken, which is what many companies do because it's a lot easier, then any planters who actually work on a statutory holiday are paid at their regular rate.
If you feel that your employer is violating any of the regulations in the Employment Standards Act, don’t be scared to lodge a complaint. That is your right! There's a complaint process, which involves using a “Self Help Kit” which is available through links on the BC Employment Standards Branch website. The Self Help Kit is pretty self-explanatory. You must give your complaint to the ESB within six months of the offense. In other words, if you don’t want to cause a lot of problems during the season for fear of getting fired, you can definitely wait until the season is over and then start to deal with it, as long as you file your claim within six months of the time when the problems occurred.
As a first year planter, you may be very reluctant to look into a complaint if your employer is short-changing you. Perhaps you think, “That’s the way the industry works.” Perhaps the vets at your company said that they suffered through the same problems in their first season, so you shouldn't worry about it. Perhaps you’re worried that it means you won’t be hired back the following season. None of these excuses are things that should stop you. Besides, why would you want to plant for the same company again next year, if it was cheating you? An experienced planter can get a job at just about any company in BC with very little effort. Many companies in the industry are following all the rules, and the only way to prevent the shady companies from abusing their power is to lodge a formal complaint when you have the grounds to do so.
You should keep very detailed records of your payroll-related information all season. Every planter should have a physical diary or journal where they record all of the pertinent information every day. Keep as much information as possible, including: the exact time you pulled out of camp, the exact time you returned, the number of trees planted, the stated price, the type of land, the block number (if you know it), the species and stock type/size, the weather, and notes on whom you were working with that day. All of this information can help substantiate your claim. Most of the time, if you dispute something, your company will show up at the ESB meeting with a cheque in hand for you, because they'll know that they just got caught trying to cut corners. If they don’t, this written record will be a good indication that you have a legitimate claim. If a company disputes the hours that you've written down and provides a different set of hours that the staff submitted, don’t be scared to dispute those hours if you feel that you're being cheated. You have to ability to take a photo with your phone every day as your truck pulls out of camp, and another as you pull back in for dinner. You can even use free apps that stamp your exact GPS coordinates on top of your photos. All photos are time-stamped by your phone, and will provide corroboration for your hours. Be honest though.
Workers' Compensation Act
The purpose of the Workers' Compensation Act is to ensure that your workplace is as safe and healthy as possible. It's implemented by an entity called WorkSafe BC. I’ll quickly cover some of the points in the Act, and in the Occupational Health and Safety regulations that it enforces.
Every worker must take reasonable care to protect themselves, to work safely and in accordance with regulations, to use and wear protective clothing and equipment, to refrain from engaging in dangerous horseplay, to ensure that safety is not compromised by drugs or alcohol, and to report any contraventions or risks to their supervisor. In turn, every supervisor must ensure the health and safety of workers under their direct supervision. Be aware that in this respect, a crew leader is legally considered to be a supervisor, even if that is not their official title.
You may often hear that you have the right to refuse unsafe work. Actually, this is an obligation, not a right. If you refuse unsafe work, it is illegal for your employer to treat you with discrimination. You may be temporarily assigned to different work at no loss in pay until the matter is resolved.
Here are a few other key points:
- As a young or new worker with a company, you must be given Health and Safety orientation specific to your workplace. There is a lengthy list of specific information that companies must cover in section 3.23 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
- Before your crew starts work in any new location, a safety meeting must be held.
The Canada Human Rights Act is in place to protect Canadians from discrimination due to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and also for conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspension has been ordered. It's against the law to refuse employment, to pay lower wages for equal work, or to harass a person based on any of these differences.
Also, British Columbia’s Human Rights Code has a section (11) which restricts advertising for job opportunities. It states that a person must not publish or cause to be published an advertisement in connection with employment or prospective employment that expresses a limitation, specification or preference as to race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age unless the limitation, specification or preference is based on a bona fide occupational requirement. In other words, it would be illegal to publish the availability of job opportunities and to state for example that they are only available to people of a certain age range, or to women only, or that transgender or Muslim applicants would not be considered. You can state that certain categories of applicants are encouraged, but not that they are preferred.
Minimum Camp Standards for Silviculture Contractors
Your company is obligated to meet basic standards within any tree planting bush camp that it operates, to ensure that you're reasonably comfortable and healthy:
- Your company must supervise and maintain the camp, its sanitary facilities, appliances, and equipment.
- Your company must provide an adequate clean and safe water supply in appropriate containers. Water that is tested as safe for human consumption is called potable water. Be aware that some facilities such as showers may use non-potable water, so you shouldn’t drink the shower water. All water sources in the camp should be labeled as either potable or non-potable. Your cook or supervisor must do a proper water test of the potable water at each camp location.
- Your company must ensure that the camp is located in a good drainage area.
- Your company must ensure that all communicable diseases be reported to the medical health officer and that such reports, in turn, be forwarded on to WorkSafe BC.
- Your company must provide safe and healthy food, prepared and served in safe conditions.
- Your company must provide an adequate number of heated private showers, sanitary toilets, and hand-washing sinks with safe/clean water.
Complying with Client/Licensee Policies
Each client that your planting company works for has their own policies, practices, and procedures that must be followed, including safety and environmental policies, and emergency and accident procedures. Planting contractors must comply with and address all concerns of the Client. The Client will have specific expectations of your company, and therefore, your boss will have specific expectations of you. For example, the Client will probably require that a planting company be Safe Certified, have their own safety plan, and that you, as an employee, are in compliance with that plan.
Many clients are concerned with meeting goals for internal programs of their own, or for third-party certification programs that they're subject to. Two certification programs that are commonly considered to be important are ISO and CSA certification. Also, many clients will be required under their external certification programs to have a detailed written Environmental Management System, known as an EMS. Due to this, they'll impose rules upon planting companies that ensure their EMS rules aren’t broken.
Your employer probably has a very extensive written list of policies and regulations that are embedded into the employment contract that you sign:
- Your company will have an Orientation policy. An extensive orientation of all workers is mandatory.
- Your company will have a Safety Meeting policy. There are going to be different types of safety meetings at some companies. You might have a camp-wide safety meeting at the start of each contract, and at the beginning of each shift. Your own crew should have a smaller tailgate safety meeting for a few minutes each morning when you arrive at the block, so the foreman can review the work plan for the day along with potential hazards and response plans.
- Your company will have an Incident and Injury Reporting policy. You will be expected to report all incidents and near-misses to your foreman or to a safety committee member, and all injuries to a designated first aid attendant.
- Your company will have a Personal Protective Equipment policy. You will be required to provide appropriate and approved clothing that will protect you from the elements, as well as appropriate work gloves and footwear. Your employer is required to provide all other protective equipment.
- Your company will have a WHMIS policy. Your employer will train you, or have you trained, in the use and understanding of MSDS sheets and the WHMIS system.
Your employer will probably have an Emergency Response Plan, which is known as an ERP. This plan should be accessible to all workers, and will cover information that you need to know if there's an emergency. It includes things like emergency phone numbers, evacuation procedures, alarm protocols, emergency transportation procedures, and what to do if there's some sort of environmental emergency or natural disaster. There may be different types of ERP’s. There may be one posted on a bulletin board in camp that lists emergency contact info applicable to a camp emergency. There will also be different ERP's in each crew truck that are specific to that crew’s block for the day.
There are other practical rules that may be found in your employment contract. Some possible examples might include:
- Pets are not permitted in camp.
- Fires may not be started in camp without the prior approval of the supervisor, and may not be started when the Fire Hazard Index is High or Extreme.
- Seatbelts must be worn at all times.
- Only approved personnel may operate an ATV, and a helmet must be worn at all times.
- Employees must have fuel dispensing training before being permitted to fuel generators and pumps.
Camp-Specific or Crew-Specific Policies
Your supervisor may have some rules that apply specifically within your camp. Some possible examples might include:
- Whenever there is a camp-fire on a night off, someone must be picked as the designated person responsible for the fire, and for ensuring that it is not still burning the next morning.
- Dinner is at 6:30pm sharp. Nobody is allowed to shower before eating unless you can be done your shower before 7pm. This prevents the cooks, who are pretty busy, from having to stand around waiting to serve someone.
- The fire pit location must be pre-approved by the supervisor, and must be located at least 200m from the fuel cache, and at least 15m away from standing timber.
Your crew foreman may also have some rules that apply specifically within your crew. Examples might include:
- Planting stops at 5pm sharp.
- Daily tallies have to be submitted to the foreman before the drive home.
- The truck leaves for town at 8:30am sharp on the upcoming day off. Have your laundry ready.
These are just some examples of the many rules and regulations that you’ll be required to follow.
One last topic, which relates to the "camp" or "crew" rules that I just mentioned, deals with the organizational structure of a company. There is definitely not just one standard organizational format for tree planting companies. There are several different ways that companies can be organized.
Some companies, especially many of those that first-year planters work at, run bush camps for the majority of their operations. If I had to guess, I'd estimate that only about a third of all BC planting contractors run bush camps, while the rest have crews that work out of motels. However, the contractors that run bush camps are definitely the largest companies in most cases, and this group of companies plants the majority of the trees in the province. If you're going to be working in a bush camp, you'll be expected to bring a tent which you'll set up as your private sleeping area within the camp, and there will be a full-time cook or cooks who will prepare your meals.
Typically, there's one person in charge of each project. In the case of a bush camp operation, it's usually a camp supervisor, who's responsible for overseeing the entire project with perhaps forty to sixty total employees. On a motel-based project, the crews are generally a bit smaller, perhaps ten to thirty employees. For a motel-based project, the person in charge is usually either an owner or partner in the company, or perhaps a project manager who is considered to be upper management but who might not actually own a share of the company.
Next, there will be crew leaders called foremen. A few companies refer to these people as crew bosses. In a typical camp, there will probably be between maybe three and six foremen. In a motel show, there may only be two or three foremen. In some companies, each planter is permanently assigned to a specific foreman. This is frequently the case in a bush camp operation. In other companies, the planters rotate between different foremen almost every day, with the project manager assigning seats as planters show up to the trucks in the morning.
Some companies employ internal checkers to assist the foremen with maintaining quality standards. These checkers will perform unofficial plots and check the planters' work, looking for quality or density problems. If they find problems, this doesn't automatically mean that the company's payment rate on the block is going to suffer. These checkers are able to provide immediate feedback to planters, before things get out of control, or they can go talk to the crew foreman. Either way, think of them as a first line of defense with respect to quality issues. Many planters cringe when they see an internal company checker coming, but in the long run, these checkers are employed by the planting company to ensure that problems are caught before the foresters come in to do their official quality and payment assessments on the block. Not all companies use internal checkers. In some cases, the crew foremen do all the checking.
Other companies employ people referred to as tree runners. These employees assist with making sure that there are boxes of trees on the block for planters to plant. This is a type of position not commonly used at coastal or southern Interior companies. It's one that is most commonly seen at companies in northern BC, or in some other provinces, where access on the blocks is especially difficult. When a company uses tree runners, the foremen usually assume the duties of quality checking.
A few of the larger companies may occasionally have other worker designations, such as having a full-time mechanic in a camp, or a driver for special types of heavier equipment or tracked vehicles. There can be some variety other than the standard hierarchy of supervisors, foremen, checkers, tree runners, and planters.
Here is a link to the "Self-Help Kit" page on BC's Employment Standards Branch website, in case you have a dispute with a company:
Here's an audio version of this section of the tutorial series:
To obtain a printed copy of this information, plus a great deal of additional training and reference information about tree planting in Canada, we now have a book available on Amazon. The book is called: Step By Step, A Tree Planter's Handbook. You can find more information at the following link:
The printed book contains additional information that is not included here in the online posts.