Fly in, fly out and hope for work

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

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on March 14, 2012
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.

 

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com