Directors with the provincial and national building trades say they are still waiting to meet with NextStar Energy management to discuss the precise skills required to build the Stellantis battery plant in Windsor, Ont. to commissioning.
Sean Strickland, executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, says Ontario construction workers are fully able to construct the plant and install the specialized equipment required and that it’s an “insult” to the skilled trades to suggest they are unqualified.
Strickland said Nov. 22 the building trades in Ontario have a long history of constructing technically advanced plants including nuclear stations, car plants and food manufacturing facilities. The practice has always been to commit to Canadian construction workers installing the equipment, often manufactured abroad, with a small, specialized technical crew of outside staff becoming involved on a limited basis nearing completion.
“We have a small crew from the original equipment manufacturer who watches and sometimes supervises the installation with the Canadian contractor and Canadian workers and then at the end of the day, that small crew will commission the equipment,” said Strickland.
To bring in hundreds of foreign workers, “that’s absolutely not how it works. That is an insult to Canadian workers.
“Maybe a couple of dozen, most certainly not 1,600 other workers.”
Wire service reports indicated Windsor police said they were helping prepare for a potential 1,600 workers from South Korea to help build the plant, which has received $15 billion in pledged provincial and federal support. NextStar Energy is a joint venture company between LG and Stellantis; the battery plant for EVs will be the first of its kind in Canada.
Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Nov. 21 he had spoken with the head of NextStar Energy and had been told by the project owner a “few people, selected people, who need to come to transfer technology” would be needed.
However, on Nov. 23, NextStar Energy Inc. said it expects upwards of 900 foreign workers to help build the plant. The temporary global staff will be part of the roughly 1,600 technicians its external suppliers will use to assemble, install and test specialized equipment.
Marc Arsenault, business manager of the Ontario Building Trades, and Wayne Peterson, executive director of the Construction Employers Coordinating Council (CECCO), have issued a statement charging that NextStar Energy has not responded to their demand that the firm identify the “specific skillsets needed throughout the entirety of the project.”
Echoing Strickland, they stated, “Building Trades members and our contractor partners have been involved in a large variety of projects that include assembling proprietary pieces of equipment that, at times, includes technical oversight, while the work is performed by our skilled trades workforce. We have worked collaboratively with a variety of clients to determine the skillsets needed to construct a large scope of projects.
“Put simply, there isn’t a project in Ontario that our Ontario contractors and skilled trades workforce can’t build.”
Asked whether NextStar Energy would respond to the Building Trades request for meetings, the firm released a statement attributed to Danies Lee, CEO of NextStar Energy. He said the firm is fully committed to hiring up to 2,300 Ontario tradespeople to help with the construction and equipment installation.
“The equipment installation phase of the project requires additional temporary specialized global supplier staff who have proprietary knowledge and specialized expertise that is critical to the successful construction and launch of Canada’s first large scale battery manufacturing facility,” stated Lee.
Countered Strickland, “We work with original equipment manufacturers all the time.
“Particularly in Ontario, we have a strong training regime with compulsory certification, and voluntary recognition. We had the best skilled trades workforce and the world in a comparative basis.”
Strickland said the CBTU has been asking for a meeting with NextStar since August to discuss how many skilled tradespeople they need.
“Then we can work with them to figure out how we can make their labour requirements but they’re not willing to tell us that and are not willing to meet with us.”
– With files from The Canadian Press