As I write this, the price of oil is about $52 a barrel. Construction workers in B.C. are following developments closely because we will feel the effects on this side of the Rockies.
The B.C. government and construction clients are also watching and likely eyeing Alberta’s recently unemployed as a source of skilled labour for B.C.
With all of the layoffs that have taken place in Fort McMurray over the last several months, some people are excited that skilled tradespeople will be available, but we should approach this news with caution.
The consequences of an Alberta oil sands slowdown can be predicted because our province has seen this happen several times.A mass influx of transient skilled workers willing to take lower wages could drive the whole industry down by working as a disincentive for hiring apprentices and blow local and First Nations hiring mandates out of the water.
Our affiliates and our contractors need to be diligent if we want to turn these threats into opportunities.
B.C. must look first to British Columbians to fill the skills shortage.The provincial and federal governments have said they are committed to providing resources so that British Columbians are first in line to construct, maintain, and operate the major projects on B.C.’s horizon. We need to hold their feet to the fire to make sure they follow through on that commitment so they don’t try to use Alberta’s expected recession to put off apprenticeship training here.
We need to educate the clients of construction that an influx of unemployed workers from Alberta is not a windfall or a way to avoid the social contract to the communities where their projects will be built.
B.C. benefits when British Columbian workers are trained and employed, B.C. companies and materials are used, and local communities gain from the project.
When those ingredients are in place and meaningful local targets are set, we can and should welcome skilled workers from other provinces to augment the labour supply.The BC Building Trades has always supported and used an interprovincial dispatch model.
The next 15 months will be critical for construction workers in B.C.
The BC Building Trades and its leaders are working with our clients, our contractors, and the provincial government and fighting for a true job plan that puts British Columbians to work.