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Champagne expects NextStar to bring in ‘very few’ foreign workers to help build plant

The Canadian Press
Champagne expects NextStar to bring in ‘very few’ foreign workers to help build plant

Federal ministers on Tuesday downplayed the number of foreign workers NextStar Energy Inc. will likely bring in to help build its heavily subsidized battery plant in Windsor, Ont., without providing specifics as to how many they expect will come.

Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the company, jointly owned by Stellantis and South Korea-based LG Corp, needs to bring in a limited number of workers with expertise to help establish an electric vehicle battery industry in Canada.

“So you’ll have a few people, very few people, selected people, who need to come to transfer technology, because this is a new industry.”

He said he spoke with the CEO of NextStar on Monday, along with the head of Stellantis, and was reassured by their commitments to hire Canadians.

Labour groups and politicians raised concerns in recent days after Windsor police said that they were helping prepare for a potential 1,600 workers from South Korea to come and help build the plant, which is expected to cost upwards of $15 billion in public support.

NextStar chief executive Danies Lee confirmed Monday that the company still plans to hire about 2,500 Canadians to run the plant, and is also engaging up to 2,300 local and regional tradespeople to help build it.

He said the company would still need to bring in additional temporary staff who have “proprietary knowledge and specialized expertise” to help in the factory’s construction and launch.

NextStar however didn’t specify how many workers it expects to bring in, a question Ontario’s Minister of Labour, David Piccini, and Minister of Economic Development, Vic Fedeli, pushed the federal government on Tuesday.

In a letter to their federal counterparts, they called for the disclosure of the number of foreign workers already on the ground working on building the plant, and how many will be arriving under federal programs.

“Taxpayers and workers deserve to know that every job related to this project that can be filled by a Canadian worker is filled by a Canadian worker and that no Canadian worker is displaced,” they said in the letter.

Federal Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault said to reporters Tuesday that only one worker has been approved so far through the temporary foreign worker program, which assesses if there are Canadians available to fill the roll before allowing a foreign hire.

At the same event, Immigration Minister Mark Miller noted that because Canada has a free-trade agreement with South Korea, companies are able to bring in employees on work visas, or visa free, to carry out some work.

Fewer than 100 people have come in as foreign workers, said Miller, a category distinct from temporary foreign workers.

“They are training people up,” said Miller. “Not a single Canadian job that has been promised will be affected by this, but people do come and go as part of our free trade agreement with South Korea.”

Champagne said they expect NextStar to prioritize Canadian workers, but that it’s also important to keep in mind the bigger picture of the future of battery manufacturing industry.

“We’re going to have a transfer of knowledge, allowing us to be successful for decades.”


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