Labour issues at the door as House opens

Ashley
Ashley Fitzpatrick
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International hires beginning at Long Harbour

Photocut: Construction activity is in full swing on Vale’s new hydromet processing plant in Long Harbour. — Submitted photo/Photo courtesy of Vale (c)

There is a shortage of workers in certain skilled trades within the province and within the country, resulting in international hires to cover the labour needs on large projects.

This labour shortage was part of the government’s throne speech, as the provincial House of Assembly opened this week.

The speech Monday promised a new Workforce Development Secretariat for the province and programs, supported in this year’s budget, to help local trades apprentices move to certified journeyperson status in their chosen trades.

Yet not all major projects happening in this province will benefit from the increased availability of local skilled labour.

 

Long Harbour

In a January 2012 newsletter, Vale manager of human resources, Jackie Lamonthe, said the amount of workers now needed for the hydromet plant at Long Harbour “are simply not available, neither in Newfoundland and Labrador nor in Canada.”

According to Bob Carter, manager of corporate relations for Vale, there are 1,900 to 2,000 tradespeople currently working at the site.

“When you add in the contractors and engineering, we’re pretty close to 2,500, 2,600,” he said, noting the numbers are continually changing. He estimated the number would grow to roughly 3,500 by the summer.

Some of those workers will come from other countries.

“We have identified an acute shortage in a number of the skilled trades. And our arrangements at the site are with the building trades council, the resource development council (RDC) and they are the umbrella which represents all of the (16) trade unions,” he said.

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“Thus far we’ve been able to supply the site through the RDC and its member unions in Newfoundland. There are a number of people working on site who have what are called travel permits, so there again members of the same union but they’re from outside the province,” Carter said.

Even with the national union hires, the company is expecting shortages.

“We have not brought in anybody thus far from outside the country. We’ve been lucky in being able to source them both locally and through the member unions in Canada, but as we move closer to that peak (in construction), if the local and then the national unions can’t supply them, we have to look elsewhere,” he said.

 

Hebron

Hebron Public Review Commissioner Miller Ayre spelled out the labour challenges for the offshore oil and gas installation in his report on project benefits, released at the end of February.

The bulk of Hebron construction is expected in 2013 and 2014.

With workers on all major projects typically being fourth-year apprentices or journeypersons, Ayre highlighted the significance of provincial apprentices overcoming any obstacles to their educational advancement in order to maximize local benefits.

It is, he said, simply more attractive for companies to bring in already qualified workers than to train local workers. It is also more efficient.

He made note of efforts made to date by the provincial government towards increasing the number of qualified skilled tradespeople available.

“Although promising, these achievements are not expected to close the gaps in the supply of skilled trades already evident in some industries,” he stated.

While he asked the Hebron project partners supply a detailed breakdown of labour requirements, a rough skilled trades assessment was provided to the commission — charting categories of trades, estimates on the number of available workers and anticipated demand.

The colours red, yellow and green are used to show where outside workers would likely be required in order to complete the scheduled work. The majority of trades — from various types of engineers to construction inspectors and mechanical trades — are marked with yellow and red.

Yet there is no expected shortage noted for electricians, structural trades or “GBS Concrete” work — all receiving green marks.

Ayre echoes the charting in his report, stating the anticipated local labour shortage for Hebron does not span all trades being represented by the RDC unions.

“The problems experienced by each trade need to be closely examined in order to devise individualized solutions to problems of education, accreditation and meaningful employment,” he wrote.

He has recommended the oil companies within the Hebron partnership “hold strategic planning meetings with stakeholders to address the skilled labour shortfalls.”

 

Muskrat Falls

In addressing the provincial Public Utilities Board (PUB) on Feb. 13, Nalcor Energy CEO Ed Martin made no mention of concerns over the supply of skilled labour for the Muskrat Falls project, assuming it receives final approvals from government.

“In the province, you know, we have a strong workforce. I refer back to some of the large projects that have been occurring here, and we are one of the few jurisdictions in the country and in North America, again who has had a steady stream of large projects and it goes from Hibernia, to Terra Nova, to White Rose, to Voisey’s Bay, to the Vale Plant, and what we’ve seen is the development of a labour force that’s skilled in large projects,” he said.

“We know they’re available, we know that the workforce is skilled and has the ability to produce these projects.”

Nalcor’s Lower Churchill project director, Paul Harrington, also spent time before the PUB.

He said Nalcor has identified the project’s labour needs.

“We provided that information to Government, so that they could then implement training schemes within their jurisdiction to try and meet the requirements of not only Lower Churchill Project, but indeed lots of other projects that were on the go.”

The company has started training “over 350 people” in Labrador, through an aboriginal partnership agreement. Underutilized workforces are being eyed.

In 2008, a consultant out of the University of Calgary was engaged by the company to help develop an action plan for project productivity.

Nalcor has also surveyed special project agreements across Canada, including the labour agreement with RDC governing Vale’s project.

“We’re in the process of going to enter into those negotiations with the appropriate union bodies,” Harrington told the PUB.

 

Welcoming international workers

As Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie read the Speech from the Throne, he read out the bottom line for the current skilled labour shortage.

“While we will work vigorously to ensure Newfoundlanders and Labradorians benefit first and fully from these employment opportunities, other workers will also be required,” he said.

“As people move here from outside the province to meet labour market needs, we will welcome them with open arms, encouraging them to sink down deep roots and make Newfoundland and Labrador home.”

 

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Workforce Development Secretariat, Public Utilities Board, University of Calgary

Geographic location: Long Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, Hebron Canada North America Terra Nova White Rose

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Recent comments

  • seanoairborne
    March 25, 2012 - 14:43

    I'll wager that there are hundreds ,if not thousands ,of Newfoundlanders who are out of work, and have the skills to do those jobs but are not considered,,because they have to be in a union to get hired and the unions will not let them in?So much for unions being good for the working stiff.Unions are only good for it's members, business agents and union leadership rather than the average working Joe.They're just A bunch of con artists who are getting their palms greased through graft and corruption.Such activity is rampant in unions all over north America.I know I've been in 4 of them over the years and gave up my memberships in all of em.There is not shortage of skilled workers in Newfoundland ,or Canada for that matter,there's a system set up just to bring in cheap labor from a lot of third world countries to undercut non-union workers.After all,if they just come from another country how can they be members of a Canadian union? It boggles my mind!

  • willow
    March 12, 2012 - 09:30

    Pur propoganda by companies trying to get away with hiring Cdn's at a real wage when they can hire 20 foreigners for the same. Ask any trades union and they will tell you they have hundreds of skilled tradesmen looking for work. On cbc just a couple of weeks ago there were 3 unions saying just that. I know a 4th year pipefitter who has applied at Long Harbour numerous times and hasn't even got a call back!! There's plenty more like him. So tell me where is the worker shortage? it's not here in NL. Just the shorthage of employers willing to hire a NL skilled tradesperspon union or not.

    • seanoairborne
      March 25, 2012 - 14:09

      Well put,Willow.....right on target!My sentiments exactly!

  • Terry
    March 12, 2012 - 00:32

    These big companys talk about shortage of trades people when in fact some trades workers ( journeymen welders) are unable get into their respective union. I personally know a jpourneymen welder who has been trying to get in the boilers maker union for several years and he keeps getting rejected. Do these unions want professional welders or do they simply want for our provincial workers to keep heading to Alberta?

  • HarbourMaster
    March 11, 2012 - 20:11

    Isn't Joanne Burkes Department responsible for this. Why isn't she addressing these issues? It would not be difficult to introduce legislation within the province to get these apprentices hired. It appears that we have a government that is blinded by the lights and are not doing anything constuctive. All Burke can do is go running to Jerome when Jim Bennett asked her to do something for someone in his district. Get on with what you are being paid to do and stop being such a sook.

  • Aaron
    March 11, 2012 - 20:10

    All the press lately about the "labour shortage" is pretty well laughable, absolute propaganda,and corporate maneuvering. One headline from the National stage reads about the poor job prospectus across the country and yet a headline here reads that we are in a labour crisis here provincially. I personally know people that are members in many of the local building trades and of these unions all of them have the majority of their memberships unemployed through their respective locals. The "MEGA" projects are staffed via the provincial trade Unions and if there actually was a shortage than why are these locals not calling out for travellers from other locals across the country. Oh yeah i forgot their isn't a labour shortage, only a will to bring in cheap labour. I suspect that the big companies are trying to maneuver with the province to allow migrant workers in on the cheap. If this happens the little guy will suffer. One last question, if the Union halls are mostly full than what bothers me the most is that they have not came out with any press to argue against the labour shortage? What are they doing with members dues if the halls are full and vale would like to bring in migrant workers? I know, they are preparing membership applications for the new workers so that they can get another $35 a month and never put you to work!

  • Anne
    March 11, 2012 - 12:11

    I find it very interesting that the Vale manager of human resources, Jackie Lamonthe, says that they can't find workers in Canada. I know several people in Canada that is a ""skilled tradesperson"" that can't get a job in Long Harbour, neither for love nor money. Is there something that goes on behind closed doors that the public doesn't know about. Like does Vale get to hire an immigrant worker and the Government of Canada pays them a fee for hiring such immigrants???

    • kim
      March 11, 2012 - 14:23

      Yes you hit the nail on the head Anne.I know a few who can't get in there.Their laying of people as we speak.For shortage of work.When you check after 2 wks they have a call on the tape for more of the same trade they laid off.That's the time frame they have to wait before the call goes out.It's not WHAT you know, it's WHO YOU KNOW.It's only a matter of time before we have another CNRL on our hand's.Where the immigrants came and 3 were killed because they weren't qualified for the job.One job i was on they bought in 90 welder's and only a few passed the test.God help us all is all i can say.Go home safe to our families is a crock of s..t.as long as they get their job done and BIG BONUSES.It's all about the MONEY.

  • Kevin
    March 10, 2012 - 19:52

    I just graduated from plumbing and I am looking for a job. I have looked for jobs everywhere and there are no postings for apprentice plumbers on the job banks. If there are so many jobs where are they posted?? If any one knows any links or sites or opportunities would they please email me. @ kevinbrown79@live.ca. Thanks

  • Don from Torbay
    March 10, 2012 - 19:27

    Show us the money and you will have no trouble getting the workers to come home. I've been working in Fort McMurray on a 2/2 schedule for the past 5 years and have no plans on giving up a full time job for a few years of construction! Those of us on a rotation have the best of both worlds…..we work ½ the year and make good money!

  • concerned
    March 10, 2012 - 13:15

    Just a comment to ask is there anywhere else out in the Workforce where you got people whom have Retired then come back to work with the same employer collecting a Pension and now getting paid for a specific period then layoffed to come back a month later to work another cycle. If so how can our Young people (Trades ) or anyone else work to get their time and experince if this is happening.I have no problem if there is not anyone else out there to do this work or be trained but you have to gain experience some how ,that's what we all did . Its time for Government or someone to take a look at all of this to see whats happening.