Muskrat Falls watched closely for labour troubles

2014 is an important year for hydro project construction

Published on April 5, 2014

One way to quickly drive up the cost of a construction project is to have your builders walk off the job.

When a wildcat strike involving hundreds of workers began during the construction of mining company Vale’s hydromet processing facility at Long Harbour, the company emphasized the dollars being lost every day the strike continued.

Time is money, particularly in construction.

Similar problems are not expected by Nalcor Energy on its $7.7-billion hydroelectric project centred at Muskrat Falls on the Lower Churchill River, where public dollars are on the line.

Yet things do not always come exactly as expected, as was shown in challenges for the project leadership to date, including a single-day protest held by would-be hires in early 2014 over a perceived shortage of Labradorians on the project.

It was an issue clearly coming to the forefront.

Hires for the Muskrat Falls project are set to ramp up again throughout the early spring, leading into the 2014 summer season. A collection of early hires by contractor Astaldi and fresh public information sessions hosted by Nalcor Energy helped to address the Labrador-first hires issue, for now.

Nalcor’s project leaders have said all hires for the project will be completed as per the hiring protocols set out in the collective agreement signed with the province’s trade unions and dictated under the special project orders that cover the various pieces of the development.

Nalcor vice-president and project leader Gilbert Bennett has also encouraged would-be workers to register at, promising consideration.

“The HR contacts for all of our contractors, as well as the union contacts, are also available from our website. And some of these — well, the major contractors that are operating in the area — they have an office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Their HR people are on the ground there as well,” he told The Telegram.

There are four special-project orders under provincial Labour Relations, covering varying aspects of the project. The latest was issued on Feb. 20 for work on the Maritime Link. Tree clearing for that link was underway as of early March.

Aside from priorities for hiring, the collective agreements under the orders also set out how issues arising around topics like financial compensation for workers and safety protocols are to be tackled.

Any individual issues can be resolved at-site, through interaction of union and company reps, or through arbitration. The provincial government has an oversight role.

“A liaison committee has been established for each special project order of the project with representatives from the parties and the Labour Relations Agency,” stated a spokesman for the minister responsible for the Labour Relations Agency, Darin King.

“The committee meets monthly and its role is to monitor labour relations and to ensure issues are addressed in a timely manner. Complaints do indeed reach the committee and are discussed as they are identified.”

The issue of Labrador-first hirings has already made its way up to committee review.

“The hiring priority protocols have been discussed at these meetings and, to date, issues have been settled through this process and outside the formal grievance process,“ the spokesman stated.

Direct employment on the Lower Churchill project, excluding the Maritime Link, is expected to peak in 2015.