Province Will Be Held To Its Commitments

Date: 
Thursday, December 04, 2014
Author: 

Tom Sigurdson, Executive Director

Last year, Premier Christy Clark asked labour to work with industry to develop a plan to coordinate and improve labour supply for the liquid natural gas (LNG) opportunities for our province.

The Premier's Working Group on LNG met nine times and developed a clear plan that committed to build and operate the LNG facilities with a British Columbian workforce first, and then Canadians from other provinces second. Only after we had exhausted the supply of skilled workers from B.C. and the rest of Canada would we consider the use of temporary foreign workers.

The government adopted the recommendations of the working group. This is no small commitment. There are thousands of highly skilled, credentialed tradespeople available across British Columbia and Canada who are eager to work for the excellent wages offered in the LNG industry. If temporary foreign workers are required to address a possible skills shortage, they should be paid at Canadian rates and not used as a cheap source of labour.

Recently, Premier Clark announced support for trades training of 3,000 workers in India in the hope that at least 300 might come to B.C. to work in the LNG industry. This was a cue for us that we must keep reminding the government of its commitment to build LNG with a British Columbian and Canadian labour force.

If we fail to train British Columbians today for the jobs that will arrive tomorrow, temporary foreign labour is ready to fill the gap. What was envisioned as a last possible option, could quickly become a comfortable default.

We cannot allow this to happen.

Building trades unions in B.C., across Canada, and indeed across North America are working now with their members to get ready to supplement any skill shortages that may come up during the construction process.

The building trades unions are international in their structure. Local unions in B.C. and Canada have fraternal relationships with construction locals in the United States. Every year, hundreds of Americans and Canadians travel across the border to fill acute labour shortages on projects. Wages and benefits for the work are portable and stay with the worker. This type of international exchange has been critically important in the past and has allowed Canadian workers to travel south during lean economic times in Canada. If we must source workers from outside Canada, this is the model we should use.

As we get closer to the final investment decisions of some LNG proponents, the temptation to keep opening the doors to temporary foreign workers will continue to grow.

The BC Building Trades and other representatives from labour joined the Premier's LNG Working Group because we believed LNG could be an opportunity for highly skilled British Columbian and Canadian tradespeople to benefit from these projects. It could be an opportunity to get trades training back on track and rebuild our skilled trades workforce after a lost generation. It could also be an opportunity to invest in and grow the skilled trades in First Nations and rural communities throughout our province.

We put aside our differences and put our names on this plan.

The premier made a commitment to invest in and develop the skills of British Columbians first and I will be first in line to hold her to her word.

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