Unions, NDP question lack of job guarantees for B.C. workers

B.C. Hydro has officially awarded a $1.75-billion civil works contract for the Site C dam, the largest single contract for construction on the $8.8-billion hydroelectric project, but some critics questioned how much it will benefit B.C. workers.

Hydro announced Monday the agreement had been finalized with Peace River Hydro Partners, after the utility selected the consortium last month as the preferred proponent.

The eight-year contract includes construction of an earth-fill dam, and a concrete foundation for the generating station and spillways at the site in northeastern B.C.

Construction is expected to begin as early as the first week of January 2016, according to a news release Monday from Petrowest Corp., one of the companies making up Peace River Hydro Partners, along with Acciona Infrastructure Canada Inc. and Samsung C&T Canada Ltd.

In the release, Petrowest president and chief executive officer Rick Quigley said: “We look forward to working closely with local workers and First Nations communities to maximize the economic opportunity for families in the Peace region.”

According to a release from B.C. Hydro, a series of job fairs are scheduled for early 2016, when local businesses and job seekers can meet with the civil works team and other contractors. According to the B.C. government, the whole Site C project is expected to create 10,000 jobs over the next decade. B.C. Hydro said project job postings will be added to the WorkBC Employment Connections Fort St. John website.

But some B.C. labour leaders questioned the value of those job fairs and expressed concern about who will fill those jobs.

According to a release Monday from the B.C. Building Trades Council, unions are “shocked that B.C. Hydro has awarded a huge $1.75- billion construction contract to a foreign-based consortium with no guarantee of jobs for B.C. workers.”

The release points out that the firms making up Peace River Hydro Partners include a subsidiary of a Spanish firm (Acciona), an Alberta-based corporation (Petrowest), and a division of a Korean firm (Samsung).

B.C. Building Trades Council board member Brian Cochrane said: “We’re pretty infuriated about the lack of commitment to use local workers and British Columbians first. This is the largest public project that British Columbia has ever undertaken, and we’re doing it with the least amount of commitment to British Columbian workers.”

Cochrane said B.C. unions worry Site C jobs could go to Temporary Foreign Workers and employees from Alberta and elsewhere in Canada.

Meanwhile, B.C.’s opposition NDP also focused on jobs in their response to the contract news, with a release Monday saying: “It is the single largest contract for the project, yet Christy Clark failed to ensure there were any guarantees that the jobs would go to British Columbians.”

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan, who has previously said he would not rule out cancelling the Site C project if his party wins the 2017 provincial election, was quoted in the release saying: “Premier Clark never gets tired of talking about jobs, but that’s all it is — talk. She hasn’t lifted a finger to actually secure jobs for British Columbians.”