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Site C puts province, labour on collision course

A trade union in British Columbia has said the labour model the province wants to use to build the Site C dam could create problems — possibly even paving the way for temporary foreign workers.

A trade union in British Columbia has said the labour model the province wants to use to build the Site C dam could create problems — possibly even paving the way for temporary foreign workers.

BC Hydro’s proposed labour model is "going to create an environment that is going to be chaotic,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council (BC Building Trades).

Sigurdson said that without a labour agreement between his organization and the government, the union would offer skilled workers “a position on a project elsewhere where they can make more money.” 

It's the latest chapter in the debate between the union and the government over how Site C workers should be hired and from where.

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RELATED STORY: BC Hydro faces another Site C Lawsuit, this time from BC Building Trades

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Historically, members of the union have built dams in Northeast B.C., but the province is seeking a more open approach this time around.

BC Building Trades wants Victoria to stick to the old model used to construct the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and others.

In May, BC Building Trades sued BC Hydro over controversial provisions that would have banned union organizing. That plan was scrapped, however, after Premier Christy Clark stepped in and said BC Hydro went "a step too far."

“The process proposed by BC Hydro, which I support, provides a way for [BC Building Trade] and BC Hydro to work in partnership to ensure the maximum amount of jobs for British Columbians on the Site C project,” wrote Premier Christy Clark in a letter to B.C. Building Trades.

  “Site C is being built in a region of the province where many First Nations have developed successful companies. An open site model will allow these companies to take full advantage of the economic opportunities provided by Site C without imposing restrictions that would limit their ability to grow, such as dictating specific union affiliations for the additional workers they may need to fulfill Site C contracts.”

The letter didn't sit well with Sigurdson.

“We are disappointed that Premier Christy Clark is choosing to abandon the [W.A.C. Bennett Dam] model,” he said.

Sigurdson said he realized “construction models evolve … but this is not the time to pit union against non-union, as BC Hydro’s proposed construction model will surely do.”

Instead, Sigurdson asked that they create a new construction partnership model, “which will build Site C with both union and non-union labour, providing that industry-standard conditions are met.”

Sigurdson said his model would allow the same rate of pay and the same grievance procedure to resolve issues.

Without a labour agreement, Sigurdson said he can not guarantee the labour that's needed will be available to build the dam. Instead of dispatching their employees to Site C, he said they could instead dispatch workers to other projects.

“I don’t mean this in an insulting way, but it goes to show [Clark's] ignorance of the construction industry," he said. "... that’s not how it works.”

“You don’t just say, all British Columbians qualified can come and work here. Not all qualified will go to work there because, quite frankly, they have a contractual obligation to work for union contractors.”

Temporary foreign workers could be on Site C: Sigurdson

Sigurdson said that without union-dispatched workers, contractors may have to hire temporary foreign workers for the Site C dam.

Sigurdson has requested that the B.C. government commit “to hiring offshore workers only when Canadians are not available and to pay them the same rate as that earned by Canadians.”

Neither BC Hydro nor the government have ruled out using TFWs for the project.

“Hydro’s priority is to ensure that British Columbians are first in line to work on the Site C project,” Dave Conway, a spokesperson for BC Hydro, wrote in an email to Alaska Highway News. “While contractors will be responsible for hiring their own workers, BC Hydro expects that contractors will hire locally and regionally first, then nationally … "

Under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the federal government requires that Canadians and permanent residents have first access to available jobs, and the program should only be used as a last resort to fill acute labour shortages.

Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) requires that employers meet specific requirements to hire foreign workers.

reporter@ahnfsj.ca