Fly in, fly out and hope for work

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Tradespeople told unions, employer committed to local then national hires at Long Harbour

A wide view of Vale’s hydromet nickel-processing facility site, with many of the buildings nearly completely covered over. Work on construction jobs such as this is too much for some trade union locals to supply, while others have more workers than are needed at the site. — Submitted photo courtesy of Vale

Wes Aylward, a journeyman pipefitter from St. John’s, certified to work anywhere in the country,  has yet to be hired to ply his trade in his home province.

The 33-year-old has been working as a pipefitter for seven years and would like to get a good job at home in Newfoundland and Lab-rador, but so far it hasn’t happened.

Aylward works in British Columbia, 14 days on and seven off, with his employer paying for flights to and from home.

His experience is an example of how the provincial “skilled trades shortage,” now commonly discussed by politicians and in the media, is not all-encompassing.

Not all trades are facing a shortage here.

While some will be pinched during construction of projects such as  Vale’s hydromet processing facility at Long Harbour, after these projects there will once again be hundreds of workers looking for new contracts.

Some will pay to keep their names in circulation on the local union out-of-work list for work in the province, while others will look to other provinces, to other major projects.

However, being able to work at home near family and friends is considered the ideal by most, including Aylward.

His current job is an open shop, non-union position.

Aware unionized workers are the first to get work on major projects in this province, he has sent the union his application and copies of his tickets (skill-specific certifications).

He has not yet made the work wait list, but said he is waiting, hoping that might change.

“I know for a fact there’s lots of guys travelling back and forth (from out West),” he said, saying many of those men and women are similarly willing to come home for work.

Aylward said the number of workers out West talking about the level of availability of jobs at home in Newfoundland and Labrador seems to be a contradiction to what he reads in the paper these days.

As The Telegram reported in The Weekend edition, Vale is now looking at how it will fill labour requirements for Long Harbour this summer.

The company is looking at international hires for some trades, but only once local and national hires are exhausted, according to Bob Carter, manager of corporate relations for Vale.

Total workers on site (tradespeople, engineers, contractors) is now closing in on 2,500 to 2,600 people. While the number is continually changing, he estimated it would grow to roughly 3,500 by the summer.

An estimated 600 pipefitters will be needed.

“We are working with the Building Trades Council (the resource development council, RDC) to ensure our contractors utilize qualified local trades first,” he said.

Workers are encouraged to contact the appropriate union local.

Aylward said he would not be angry if he does not get in on Long Harbour or any other local projects since, as a skilled worker with a red seal certification in his trade, he can find work.

That said, he said he would be angry if something went wrong or was taken for granted in the process — if foreign workers were brought in when local or national workers were available.

Bob Fiander, business agent for UA Local 740, the union representing a collection of trades that includes pipefitters, high-pressure welders, pipe welders, sprinkler fitters and instrumentation technicians was contacted by The Telegram Tuesday.

Fiander said, although media attention might indicate otherwise, there is currently no shortage locally of trained pipefitters.

“We still don’t have all of our members working,” he said.

Since those unionized workers are paying union dues while they wait, they will be put forward first as jobs open up — as per the labour agreement governing the build at Long Harbour.

“There’s probably 450 people still on the out-of-work list,” Fiander said.

He also said the union keeps applications from workers looking to enter the union local on file and will work to see provincial and Canadian workers brought in before supporting international hires.

“We have file folders out there full of hundreds of applications. As the need comes, then obviously we take the guys in,” Fiander said.

“I want people in Newfoundland (and Labrador) to be working. I want Canadians to be working. And I hope that’s how it goes. I don’t want to see international workers go in on that site while there’s someone in Newfoundland or the rest of Canada that’s interested in coming to work here.”

Meanwhile, skilled trades labour issues and major projects are likely to be at the forefront again today.

The provincial government is hosting a forum on skilled trades apprenticeships at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s; review of the special project order provisions (for major projects) in the Labour Relations Act has been completed and tradespeople working with Eastern Health, members of NAPE, are set to rally “to bring attention to their comparatively low wages and looming recruitment and retention issues.”

The Telegram will have full coverage.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Lab, The Telegram, Building Trades Council Sheraton Hotel

Geographic location: Long Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia Canada

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Recent comments

  • cjames
    August 17, 2015 - 07:19

    If you have a job be thankful I lost everything

    • Johnny T
      October 07, 2015 - 13:29

      Same here. Highly qualified in engineering and construction and cannot find work to save my life. Very few opportunities in Newfoundland right now. EI has ran out and now I'm ashamed to say that I am looking into social assistance.

  • DJ
    January 23, 2014 - 03:33

    I agree, there is no shortage of workers in Nfld. Do not move home for hopes of long term employment. I am a Journeyman Red Seal Welder, with many tickets, and have been looking for work in St Johns for 3 months now!!! Regretting moving my Family home from Alberta!! I got 15 months work, now what?????

  • BEN
    November 19, 2012 - 17:07


  • Ashton
    June 18, 2012 - 16:35

    HAHAHA this is really funny. From an inside souce in Long Harbour, they are crying for pipefitters. As well there is foreign workers in there as well. Like really... for the people that are away working they still come back to this province to file their taxes, putting lots of money into this province when they are not willing to help these people get work. I think its time for the union boys to shake their heads!! They have people on the list as "working" and still paying them dues when they have no intention on getting them work close to home. UA740 would turn your guts!!!! They other need to get on the ball and take people into the union and put locals to work!!!!!

  • Darren
    May 30, 2012 - 02:29

    Following my completion of Hard Rock Mining at Corona College(common core), I was under the impression that companies were crying out for workers in the mining industry, even in this province. Imagine my surprise to learn that is not the case and it has recently come to light how they are advertising in foreign countries and hiring ppl with no more or even no qualifications or certificates to speak of to fill common labour type positions. There are several colleges across Canada that train workers for this, including engineers, but if you go around and talk to ppl on the internet, literally dozens of these new graduates can not obtain positions. What is worse is that ppl with barely high school education is making 3 times the money in Alberta while there are experienced qualified ppl here in NL who are looking for work. Most of us are forced to go away and even then there are no guarantees. Makes me angry to be more than able to work and no support, while non canadians or ppl with no desire to work are given everything to them on a silver platter and don't have to do anything other than have a pulse to get a high paying job.

  • BEN
    May 28, 2012 - 16:32

    imagine ,travelling back and forth to alta and paying thousands of dollars to this province in taxes., and then be replaced in your own province by foreigners. i think it's time for a riot or a revolution. you would think people with guts enough to go away to work would be embraced not ostracized.

  • Jennifer Melnychuk
    March 14, 2012 - 09:22

    I don't understand where the shortage of workers are. My family and I moved home because of the so called "need for workers."That has gotten us further behind then we ever were. All these news conferences about jobs that the PC government promised, where are they? My husband is a Journeyman Red seal welder, he's working as a mechanic! But I guess the government gotta make some promises to keep people in the province, whether they keep there promises is another story!

    • engineer
      March 14, 2012 - 10:56

      As a local engineering student soon to graduate with my degree I agree with this story. There are always reports coming out about how engineers are needed. Yet, because of this size and importance of these projects, most companies are looking for people with experience and new grads have to go away to work. People of NL would be shocked if they saw the # of newly hired engineers who fly in/out or have been hired from away, it is by far the majority.

    • Jeff
      March 14, 2012 - 11:24

      Maybe you shouldn't have jumped the gun and ran home. Were you directly promised a job? You just decided that you were heading home because you were home sick. you only have yourself to blame.

  • Local Nfld'er
    March 14, 2012 - 08:11

    Its not just in the trades that the locals are being overlooked. Its also happening an a large scale within the administrative, management and engineering related activities also. It would be worthwhile for the provincil gov't to do an actual survey on how many people are flying in & out of other provinces filling positions for very large $$$ while locals can't seem to get to the interview stage.

  • J
    March 14, 2012 - 07:50

    I'm not an expert on how unions work but does 450 people on an out-of-work list imply that there are 450 people in this province on EI and not leaving to work in another province (ie. Alberta?).

    • Calvin P.
      March 14, 2012 - 23:42

      @ Jeff - U R assuming as much as you think Jennifer assumed! maybe they were promised work, maybe she was homesick, who r u to judge?? All in all though to try and set roots on the VERY VERY tiny possibility of getting work home that pays decent is not a very good idea in my mind..not if you are like me and want to be home with your family every night till you die. If that is the case then any job in NL will only last a year or two anyway and then what??? Home will be a nice place to vacation.....

  • willow
    March 14, 2012 - 07:46

    Ashley you are doing a great job in keeping the skilled trades issue in the forefront. There are numerous skilled tradesmen ,some in the union some not, iliving in NL and travelling to Alberta, Sask or BC for work. All are no doubt ready and available to work in Long Harbour or whatever other major project on the go but they are not getting any calls. The companies are making it seem like there's no one available so they can get away hiring cheap labour. Don't let it happen in NL there's no need for foreign workers on any of the major projects here. Unions also need to play a role and open their shops to people who want to join. Maybe these sites should be open to all tradesmen union or not. Maybe make it a requirement to join their trade union upon hire. There are plenty of ways to employ the people we have here. There's no shortages just lack of will to employ our own people.

  • Calvin
    March 14, 2012 - 07:39

    I have to say, I don't get some of the stories going around saying there is a labour shortage in Newfoundland. I know journeyman scaffolders, and 3rd-4th level apprentice welders and electricians having to leave the province to find work. That doesnt scream labour shortage to me, it says companies will only hire journeyman to do the work a 3rd or 4th level apprentice is quite capable of doing. You heard it here first, there will be hires made outside of Newfoundland & Labrador, and Canada, for the upcoming work in Newfoundland, and then there will be some fish to fry, so to speak.