A collection of welders brought in from Ireland to help complete Vale’s new processing plant at Long Harbour returned home this week after less than a month on the job.
The 26 workers were all sent home by their employer in Newfoundland and Labrador, KBAC Constructors. The company is a partnership of Peter Kiewit Infrastructure Co., BMA Constructors — a Black & McDonald-Alberici joint venture — and G.J. Cahill and Company Ltd.
The Irish welders were recruited by KBAC under a federal permit for temporary foreign workers, after skilled trade unions were unable to supply welders with the same skills from either Newfoundland and Labrador or other parts of Canada.
Vale Newfoundland and Labrador spokesman Bob Carter said Friday the process to bring in the workers began before a new incentive program for all workers at the site was launched July 15, amounting to a $2-$10 per hour pay raise for trades workers.
That program was meant to slow worker turnover at the site as the construction project approached completion.
According to Carter, the action drew in new Canadian workers.
“So the combination of that, plus the completion of the scope that the contractor had allocated for these folks, was such that they found themselves in a situation where there were available resources from Canada to complete the work program and the first labour to be let go would obviously be the temporary foreign workers.”
It shortened the stay of the Irish workers.
“There is to and fro in the construction industry on contractors bringing in and releasing labour as needed. And clearly, in this situation, where there are available resources within Canada to support our contractors’ needs for specialty welding, our priority is to Canadian employees first,” Carter said.
Questions put Friday afternoon to a KBAC spokesman based in Nebraska received no response as of press time.
Messages left with the Resource Development Trades Council, the body representing the 16 construction trade unions active in the province, were not returned as of press time.
Meanwhile, as previously reported, the provincial government has planned a recruitment mission to Ireland for Nov. 7-14. There will be room for 15 companies on the trip, although the list of companies to travel as part of the mission has not been finalized.
Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Shea says that mission is seeking new, permanent residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, as opposed to temporary foreign workers.
At Long Harbour, Carter said two categories of temporary foreign workers were tapped to bring the project through peak construction. The first was the welders. The second was a group of “three or four” crane operators.
There are also “upwards of 900” people with travel cards working on site from other parts of Canada.
Vale introduced its incentive program for workers to push for an Oct. 31 completion of the so-called Phase 1 project work — allowing for the start of the transition of the Long Harbour plant from construction to operations.
Carter said the company is on target to meet that deadline and, over the next six to seven weeks, contractors will finish up and large numbers of workers will start to be laid off.
On the other hand, startup work will begin. First nickel is expected in the first quarter of 2014.