BY RICHARD GILBERT - Construction unions in B.C. are supporting a new Liberal government initiative to supply an adequate number of skilled labourers to build a new Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry in the province by 2020, but some say it's too little, too late.
“Out of the 15 recommendations made in the final report of the group, there are four that are really key,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council.
“The first is to develop a new structure for a working committee to look at all matters LNG. I think through the action of accepting all the recommendations, they (the government) are sincere about having labour involved with equal representation. This shows what we bring to the table.”
Earlier this month, B.C. Premier Christy Clark accepted all the recommendations that were made in the Premier’s Liquefied Natural Gas Working Group: Final Report.
It recommended developing a process for using Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) on these projects.
“If we get to a point where we have exhausted all B.C. and Canadian skilled workers, we will bring in a workforce from our organization,” said Sigurdson.
“We deal with temporary foreign workers from the U.S. all the time and bring up people we know are qualified.”
The New Democratic Party jobs and labour critic Harry Bains said Premier Clark is playing catch up by bringing the working group together to focus on skills training and apprenticeships.
“Unfortunately, because she’s late to the game, she has admitted we’ll have to rely on temporary foreign workers because we won’t have enough British Columbians trained for those jobs,” he said.
“That means we won’t see the full benefits of an LNG industry. In fact, this government dismantled our apprenticeship training system in 2004. This government is not just playing catch up — they actively set us back.”
The Liberals enacted legislation in 2003 that dissolved the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC), while the Industry Training Authority (ITA) was established in 2004.
The new approach began by closing regional offices, eliminating trades counselors, cutting funding to programs and removing labour representatives from the ITA board.
In what is being called an unprecedented and historic move, Premier Clark invited building trades unions to join the LNG Working Group in September 2013 to help build a new LNG industry in the province by 2020.
To achieve this goal, the report’s first recommendation is to develop a structure no later than July 1, 2014 “with equal representation from industry, organized labour, First Nations and governments to participate and enable the skills training and workforce planning issues leading to employment in the LNG opportunity on an on-going basis.”
The structure, membership, and terms of reference should be established in consultation with the members of the Premier’s LNG Working Group, which includes the Haisla First Nation and industry representatives from BG Canada, Trans Canada, Spectra Energy, Kitimat LNG, Chevron, Progress Energy Canada Ltd and Shell.
Representation from organized labour includes the B.C. Building Trades, B.C. Federation of Labour, the United Association of Journeymen & Apprentices of the Plumbing & Pipefitting Industry of U.S. and Canada, the Construction & Specialized Workers’ Union, Local 1611 and the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association.
The report has a number of recommendations that deal directly with the development of labour supply through training and apprenticeship.
For example, the second recommendation is to begin planning and training British Columbians immediately for the LNG opportunity.
The third is training should be co-ordinated throughout B.C. and Canada to maximize the effectiveness of the existing labour pool and lead to employment.
And the fourth is to identify and remove barriers to entry into training, while supporting literacy and essential skills development.
According to the report, attracting and retaining skilled labour is one of the largest challenges for the LNG industry.
This includes engaging under-represented communities in the north of the province through to encouraging an even more mobile workforce that is able to transition from project-to-project as necessary.
The Working Group supported the principle of ensuring that as many British Columbians and Canadians as reasonably possible benefit from the skills training and employment that the LNG business opportunity presents.