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February 5, 2014

Alberta union questions sudden oilsands layoffs and foreign hires

The local ironworkers union in Alberta is trying to find out why more than sixty of its members were laid off at the Kearl oilsands construction project in northern Alberta this week, and replaced with Croation temporary foreign workers.

“Everything came to a head on Tuesday (Feb.4), when 65 ironworkers were called into the lunchroom and told their services were no longer needed and they were being laid off,” said George Papineau, business manager with the Ironworkers Local 720.

“They were told they are being replaced by ironworkers who are temporary foreign workers from Croatia.”

Papineau said the laid-off ironworkers, who were employed by Pacer-Promec Joint Venture (PPJV), a joint venture between Alberta-based Pacer and Quebec-based Promec. They were put on a bus and taken back to the camp, where arrangements were made to go home.

Ironworkers Local 720 business manager Harry Tostowaryk said the laid-off ironworkers had been involved in the construction of slurry preparation building and an ore preparation building, as well as installation work on a conveyor belt system.

He said the ironworkers had about four to six months of work left on the project.

“Pacer has many arms and it is possible that one of them could be dealing with Croations,” said Papineau. “The question we are trying to answer is: why were 65 ironworkers laid-off and replaced by Croations. We are currently trying to deal with this through government agencies.”

Calgary-based Pacer Corporation has a construction arm located in Fort McMurray.

According to Papineau, union contractors in Alberta are concerned about how this incident will affect their ability to source manpower, as they enter a busy period during shut-down season.

“They are following all the rules and are upset that a contractor has secured manpower, without jumping through all the required regulatory hoops,” he said.

Ironworkers Local 720 have contacted Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and requested that an investigation be undertaken to find out how the system failed to ensure there were no Canadians available or already doing the work.

In addition, Papineau said the TFWs are being paid about less than the Canadian workers.

“There is a rumour that the Croatian workers are getting paid $18 per hour”, he said. “We are trying to confirm that right now.”

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