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COMMENTARY · 16th September 2011
Merv Ritchie
American Workers take rare Canadian Jobs
Today the Globe and Mail is quoting John Les (now Parlimentary Secretary to the Premier of BC Clark) with this statement on employment;

"Everybody is looking for work around home, but (they) may not be aware that there are jobs available in Kitimat or in Terrace or Fort St. John. That's not for everybody, but if you're a young person looking for a job, maybe horizons need to be expanded a bit,"

Really? There are jobs in Kitimat but from all reports to get one and get fair benefits of the employment at the dismantling of the Smelters at the Rio Tinto Alcan site you need to be an American. Canadians are being mistreated and for every one Canadian hired at least three are from as far away as Florida.

For three months the Terrace Daily has been receiving calls from Canadian residents; those living in Terrace, Kitimat and the lower mainland complaining about the treatment and the excessive American hiring practices while locals seem to be sidestepped or mistreated to such an extent they quit. Some of the observations are quite disturbing. In one case a pair of Iron workers observed a man using a cutting torch without the proper breathing apparatus. While dismantling the smelter lines cutting torches are used to break apart the components into manageable sections. Some of this is stainless steel and almost everything has aluminum dust and pebbles around it. Stainless and aluminum give off highly toxic gasses when burnt in this high heat fashion.

The report delivered to us details how the young men in their twenties willing work without the proper masks and breathing apparatus to not look like they are not frightened to do anything. Jobs are scarce and they don’t want to lose what they have. However the American hires all have the proper gear or are in locations that are not as hazardous.

All of the demolition work is low skilled labour; forklifts, excavators, cutting torches and general labour. This is after all a destruction job, not a fine tuned smelter construction operation. Most of these tasks require a minimum of training and the other tasks which require more, such as an excavator operator and welder, could find an abundance of local BC workers. Yet today dozens upon dozens of jobs easily performed by local workers are being taken up by imported Americans.

One just has to take a short drive around Kitimat and look at all the licence plates. It is like taking an American Geography lesson.

And then there is the salt in the wound. The American workers are provided a Living Away From Home Allowance (LOA) of between $135 to $140. Canadians are expected to stay in the bunkhouses or are provided a gas stipend of $20/day. This has created an environment of disharmony and distaste.

Wages haven’t been the issue; it has been the immigration without offering to jobs to Canadians first. Some claim the Companies doing the remediation work have side stepped the rules calling almost all the new workers supervisory or highly skilled staff.

In 2002 the same type of controversy happened on the other side of the border. Canadians were hired at a higher rate than offered to the American workers in Portland, Maine. Protests outside the gates of the facility took place and the Unions were quite bluntly ‘pissed’. Hiring was happening across the border in Canada and non Union workers were brought in.

There are dozens of former Eurocan workers and ex logging company locals who are struggling to make their mortgage payments. Watching all the American plates drive by, parked at the bars and restaurants, sporting happy employed smiles would be enough to send a poor long time resident into a tizzy.

Safety standards are being sidestepped and complaining might see you out of work while a compliant son or father of a “Supervisory staff member” from Alabama will arrive to take your place.

As many of those employed now state to a new hire, “Welcome to the shit show”.

It is against the rules to bring in a camera or recording device, the place is a security lockdown. Getting to the truth and to the straight goods is a near impossibility but the evidence is with the unemployed middle aged worker in Terrace and Kitimat and the numerous USA workers now living and working at the smelter site. It doesn’t take a genius.

And what was that Minister Les said? Oh yeah,

"Everybody is looking for work around home, but (they) may not be aware that there are jobs available in Kitimat or in Terrace or Fort St. John. That's not for everybody, but if you're a young person looking for a job, maybe horizons need to be expanded a bit,"

The appropriate response from Les would be to get his government to raid the entire site and see just what is going on there. A surprise visit with WorkSafe BC would be fun. But that would take a government with a backbone, (notice how I avoided using that other word, balls?) one that would stand up for the average British Columbian, the working stiff. But then we all know the BC Liberal record on that issue.

And Dear Mr. Les, pray tell, where are these jobs in Terrace you mention?
Like I said.
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 20th September 2011
I am not opposed to natives first ,as long as they are from the local band, I don't think the local jobs should go to you if you are from a band that is located in the lower mainland or another province .By the same token I am not happy about non natives moving into the area and taking jobs that could go to locals either unless they are skilled labor of course.
In response to Natives First
Comment by c. sandecki on 19th September 2011
Is it possible those resumes lacked the skills or work history the hiring company sought?
Just asking.
Natives first
Comment by Laura M on 19th September 2011
Someone came to our Band and offered the jobs. We quickly faxed off resumes but no one got hired. Our fellas went to Kitimat, sat in on the info sessions and still nothing. Our Band wasn't the only one approached. It was just one of their lies.
Not that easy
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 18th September 2011
Its not that easy to get a job at the remodernization.You have a better chance of getting a job if your a waitress at the local pub by word of mouth than if you have a resume in at The RTA office. There needs to be a bit of a shake up in that office . I don't have a problem with Natives first policy but does that mean that its the natives from across Canada or from the local band that get first hire? I know its toughto make hiring policies to keep every one happy but it should be reasonably fair.
Ok, jobs?, where does a person apply?
Comment by bill braam on 18th September 2011
Not for myself, I'm ok, but where does a person inquire for a possible job? Recently I heard of 'laborer jobs at $27.00 +,+' being possible in the Kitimat consrtuction areas. Where does a person go to apply for such possible jobs, is it the government job bank posts or otherwise? In the early 80's there were very well paying construction jobs at the Partec/Ocelot plant, a person could make extremely good money in a few short years and if frugally saved, could make a very good start in life with a house, car, education. The same is possible today. Thank you.
Heads up for all of the NW
Comment by Dave on 17th September 2011
Wait until the power line is further along and construction begins on several mine sites at the same time - !!!!
I have heard of similar problems on the Forest Kerr project but apparently it's not Alta Gas but the contractors and their management.
For more on performance requirements...
Comment by Helmut Giesbrecht on 17th September 2011

3.000 construction jobs to be had
Comment by balthazar on 17th September 2011
Making the statement that there is no local hiring policies in place is simply wrong, and that is not because the local NDP MLA fought for it, that is because the companies investing in Kitimat are aware of their social responsibility. But local companies must undergo a bidding process,this is not a communist breakfast giveaway party after all. Safety is one of the key performance indicators within the bidding process - thank god for that. In 2013 there will be app. 3.000 construction jobs between Kitimat LNG and the RTA modernization. Could you imagine what would happen to our 2 local hospitals if not all and everything was done to assure that these jobs
are safe ? We do not even have a trauma center ! There are enough jobs and opportunities for local people and families to participate in this job creation. And there are enormous efforts made to train and educate locally where needed. Local companies should have a distinct competitive advantage in the bidding process. The simple fact that they are local, should give them a cost advantage. If their safety standards are state of the art and comparable, then they will win contracts. If they do not win, than the least they can expect is to be informed why and given detailed reasoning, so they can improve and work on their weaknesses. This will improve their competitiveness and their chances rise to win contracts in the mining sector or the Port expansion in Prince Rupert after the construction phase in Kitimat is over. And yes, a guest should always behave like a guest....
It is about Performance Requirements.
Comment by Helmut Giesbrecht on 16th September 2011
A province which strives to be "investor friendly" above all else won't insist on Performance Requirements in dealing with foreign companies. Performance requirements are things like local hire and local purchasing. If Free Trade and freer Trade along with removing any and all "obstacles" to investment it is not difficult to see why the BC Government would not lobby for some local benefit to a large scale project. It is certainly no surprise to me having sat on a committee with some of the liberals when the Multi- Lateral Agreement on Investment was on the political radar. That effort to harmonize all investment regulation failed but it very likely continued as government policy under the radar.

This government is not interested in giving rural communities any decision making power on such issues nor are they interested in allowing lower levels of government to have any influence.
NDP's Supposed Explanation
Comment by T on 16th September 2011
Thank you for having the guts to finally address this issue....upon recently speaking to the NDP representative of the area, when asking about these exact issues I was told this: BC (Kitimat in general), has not protected the local hire requirement. There is no local hire requirement. None.

My question is this: doesn't that mean partly the NDP didn't do their job since they are in charge around here????

These companies are bringing in temporary "immigrant" workers (read americans), under the new temporary work permit that is available to foreigners to come here and work for just under two years with different pay/benefit arrangements.

I was under the impression it was cheaper for the company but am now learning that our local workers are the lowest paid on the site, with no benefits, no trans. fund of $20 as suggested in your article, and are being harrassed by the American workers. Extremely harrassed!

We won't even talk about the safety issues that everyone is afraid to address or lose their job.

In my opinion the foreigners should at the very least behave and remember: they are guests here. My understanding is that alot of them come from Texas and I recently read that Texas is so badly in a job recession that families are living with their children in shelters after loosing their homes. Maybe they should remember that and be grateful and act like decent human beings and not a bunch of girly prima-donnas who get special everything.

And...stop hassling/harrassing the local workers! I have heard about this from many local sources. Theses companies should be ashamed of the behavior of their employees in town and on the job site - the last thing americans need is an even worse reputation... show some respect!
Northern Ingeniuty
Comment by Dave S on 16th September 2011
Some truth. However it is the northern companies that have the safety practices you mention. The bidding process is fair and safety is a big company focus. It should be a focus for those northern bc companies as well.