Another protest planned in relation to hirings, or lack thereof, at the Muskrat Falls construction site was called off earlier this week, as reports circulated that some Labradorians interested in employment at the site had received phone calls and job offers.
The news of the new hires was posted on a Facebook page dedicated to discussion of hiring practices for the Lower Churchill project.
“Folks, people are starting to get some calls for Muskrat for jobs — that’s good news! Cancelled for tomorrow, see what happens,” stated a post from Larry Pottle on Monday.
TC Media spoke with Larry Pottle on the side of the Labrador highway Feb. 18. Quinton Russell, a journeyman refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic who participated in a demonstration that day with Pottle, said Tuesday his understanding is the same as Pottle has been posting on the Facebook page.
“I haven’t gotten a call or anything for any work,” Russell said, “but just from what I’m seeing on Facebook, I heard a couple of people got calls for it.”
He said he still believes not all contractors at the site are following the appropriate, regulated hiring practices.
“If you’re from the moon, it don’t make no difference to me. You’re more than welcome — work away. But, that being said, it says in the hiring protocol, you take aboriginal people first and then Labradorians thereafter and from Newfoundland after,” Russell said.
He said he has completed the required online registration of his qualifications at muskratfallsjobs.com.
Not being unionized, he then went looking to join a union to improve his chances for work on the project. He filed applications with both the Labourers Local 1208 and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 740.
The latter has yet to respond, while the labourers’ union, he said, rejected him outright.
At the labourers union office in St. John’s, secretary treasurer Joe Whiffen said the union has had a flood of calls and resumes. All cases, he said, are being dealt with appropriately.
“We have a lot of people unemployed that are members of this union,” he said, before ending the interview.
A leading project contractor, Astaldi, has opened a human resources office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, according to Russell.
The Telegram approached the company through a media contact listed on the company’s website to confirm, but received no response as of press time.
According to Gilbert Bennett, Nalcor Energy vice-president and Lower Churchill project lead, regardless of the union or contractor, workers can feel assured their registration at the Muskrat Falls job website will get them a look-in.
In addition, workers can feel free to bring their résumés to Nalcor’s human resources (HR) office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, on Burnwood Drive.
“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 said.
Bennett said he believes there are a number of factors playing into the frustrations of skilled workers looking for jobs on the project.
For one, the construction project has varying levels of demand for the different skilled workers in any given year, meaning some highly skilled workers living in Labrador will not be needed on the day they go looking for work, if the particular skill they have is not in demand at the time.
“For example, there are a limited number of electrical people on site today compared to the civil trades,” he said.
There is also the flow of workers. Muskrat Falls is a construction project, meaning quick hires and temporary employment. It is an accepted reality for skilled trades workers familiar with large construction, but a challenge for others.
Yet not everyone believes Labradorians are being tapped to the greatest extent possible.
“It is a major issue up there. People are not seeing the benefits like they thought they were going to get on all of this,” provincial Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said when asked about the topic Wednesday.
Liberal MP Yvonne Jones said she recently met with about 30 people looking for jobs at Muskrat Falls, and heard from more by phone and email.
“I’m told that there are carpenters and carpenters’ helpers that are being flown in and bused to site, I’m being told that there are labourers being flown in and bused to site, I’m being told that there are cooks, cleaners, cooks’ assistants — all of these people are being brought in and bused to site,” she said, prior to the news of more Labradorians being hired this week.
Jones said she believes major contractors need to do more to reach out to potential project workers living in Labrador, suggesting more information sessions and company HR offices near the site.
She said there is a role for the unions as well.
“I don’t even know if they have taken the time to come and talk to people about what their practice is, but they signed an agreement and they made a commitment,” she said.
Oversight is the responsibility of the provincial government, having brought in the special-project orders for local-first hiring policy.
There are four special-project orders under provincial Labour Relations, covering varying aspects of the $7.7-billion project. The latest was issued for the Maritime Link, on Feb. 20.
On Wednesday morning, The Telegram contacted a spokesman for Minister Darin King, responsible for the Labour Relations Agency, but received no response to questions around the special-project orders as of deadline.
Direct employment on the Lower Churchill project, excluding the Maritime Link, is expected to peak in 2015.