Unions criticize plans to bring 900 Korean workers for Ontario EV battery plant

Plan is 'a slap in the face to our workers and contractors'

Unions criticize plans to bring 900 Korean workers for Ontario EV battery plant

Canadian workers’ unions have criticized NextStar Energy over its plans to bring 900 foreign workers to Canada to do work that local workers can do.

Last week, NextStar confirmed its plan to hire about 1,600 technicians from outside suppliers to assemble, install and test equipment at its EV battery plant in Windsor, Ont. These workers include up to 900 "temporary specialized global supplier staff," mainly from South Korea.

"They have specific knowledge of the equipment, having been part of the team to build it and disassemble it for shipping, and will therefore see the installation through," the company said in a statement, according to a CBC report.

This is a problem, according to Canadian unions.

“Bringing approximately 900 South Korean workers to handle the installation of this equipment is not only an insult to Canadian taxpayers who funded this project with the understanding that jobs were going to Canadians, but it is a slap in the face to our workers and contractors, including those in Windsor, who are the most highly-skilled tradespeople in the world,” Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) said in a statement.

“We’re at the beginning of truly grasping the impact, but we can already share that Canada is losing out on millions of valuable hours for its workers.”

Job seekers from outside Canada have shown far greater interest in coming to work in the country, according to a previous Indeed report.

Earlier, Sean Strickland, executive director at CBTU, said that 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. Meanwhile, 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, according to a Construction Connect report.

 The Construction Employers Coordinating Council of Ontario and Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario shared the same sentiments.

"The suggestion … workers need to be brought in on permits to get this completed is a false narrative," they said in an emailed statement to CBC.

"Put simply, there isn't a project in Ontario that our Ontario contractors and skilled trades workforce can't build and we urge the company and the government to engage in dialogue with industry to ensure that happens in Windsor."

The plant received $15 billion in federal and provincial subsidies, according to CBC.

‘Very much on the same page’

Vic Fedeli, provincial minister of economic, job development and trade, has also discussed the issue with NextStar CEO Danies Lee about workers, according to the CBC report.

"These workers will also assist with training 700 Ontario workers to equip them with new skills that will lay the groundwork for work on future projects of this kind as we transition to building the cars of the future," Fedeli said. "To be clear, these temporary workers will come to Windsor to perform this highly specialized work, upskill Ontario workers, and then return home."

Also, François-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of industry, said he spoke to the building trade unions Friday and they're "very much on the same page."

However, in its statement, CBTU said that it is hoping to “sit down with NextStar management in the nearterm to fully understand their intentions in Windsor”.

Meanwhile, Joe McCabe, president of Auto Forecast Solutions, told CBC News that bringing in foreign workers into Canada for the plant is to be expected. The plant in Windsor is a partnership between Stellantis and South Korean company LG Energy Solution.

"This is what's going to happen with every partnership, especially in the electrification space with a foreign entity, and I think it's got to be sort of the pill that needs to be swallowed for a short amount of time.

“Anywhere you're going to partnership with a foreign entity, you're going to have representation from that foreign entity … at least for the kickoff, especially in a battery electric field.”

In August 2022, a group of 20 workers fired by the Windsor government for defying its COVID-19 vaccination mandate launched a legal action, claiming the policy violated their constitutional rights. Earlier that year, an arbitrator ruled in favour of union members working at automaker Stellantis in Windsor who filed a grievance claiming that their employer’s vaccine policy was unfair and unreasonable.

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