Emera has signed a labour agreement with workers in many trades who will work on the Maritime Link that will carry hydroelectric power from Newfoundland to Cape Breton.
The agreement came after nine months of formal negotiations that one labour leader described as “tough.” Informally, talks began nine months prior to that.
The agreement will cover the full construction period, ending Dec. 31, 2017.
“In Cape Breton, we multi-trade bargain so we have anywhere from 11 to 15 unions, depending on what agreement we’re dealing with,” said Jack Wall, president of Cape Breton Building Trades Association.
“When Emera came in, they didn’t understand how that worked. It works very well in Cape Breton and works very well with our contractors in Cape Breton.”
11 unions involved
In the case of the Maritime Link, there are 11 unions involved, covering trades including carpentry, labour, sheet metal, operating engineering, plumbing and pipefitting.
The roughly $8.7-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project is on track to start generating power in 2017, with full production the following year.
The Maritime Link will include a 170-kilometre subsea cable linking Cape Breton with southwestern Newfoundland
Wall said the key issue in the negotiations was ensuring local labour is used. Other issues included wages and health and safety.
“For us, it means local jobs. … There’s a great number of people leaving the island and it’s affecting their families. There’s a lot of families being broke up because there’s not enough work on the island,” Wall said. “I know if I was working away, I would come home for the eight months’ work to stay with my family.”
The construction project is expected to employ from 200 to 400 at its peak.
The strength of the agreement
is that it will offer labour stability for the life of the construction
project, as Emera looks to secure contracts, said Rick Janega, president of Emera Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It’s a construction agreement that actually involves many unions, including two different representations and the contractors themselves, so the two labour agreements that support the building of the Maritime Link in Cape Breton are actually pretty unique,” he said, noting he’s never been involved in such a negotiation before.
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Opens trades opportunities for women
Andrea McQuillin, assistant business manager with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1928, is the only woman employed as a power line technician in Nova Scotia. She said the agreement is explicit in its support for hiring women in different roles, from labourers to electricians.
“Sometimes women don’t envision themselves in these roles, and where we have a project that actually seeks them out, that has imperatives for finding women who are available for this kind of work, means that people can start to imagine themselves or explore the opportunity of actually jumping in,” she said.
It will also give tradespeople some stability, knowing they will have employment for a given period of time, McQuillin said.
Janega, who’s from Sydney, said the labour agreement sets the stage to allow contractors to evaluate the work that they will be bidding on.
“It allows them to understand that they have labour security and stability through to the end of the construction period so you don’t end up with any kind of labour unrest issues or disagreements,” he said.
“This covers us from end to end and it’s a critical part of being able to give confidence to suppliers so that they can give the best pricing to us for the project, to be able to bring this in on budget.”
Janega said Emera will soon announce more work, from site preparation to constructing the transmission system.
The agreement received 100 per cent approval by all the unions involved.