Admits to instances where qualified Labradorians were overlooked
© Derek Montague
Gilbert Bennett, Nalcor’s vice-president for the Lower Churchill Project.
Nalcor’s vice-president for the Lower Churchill Project, Gilbert Bennett, admitted Wednesday, Feb. 19 there have been times when outside workers have been brought into the Muskrat Falls site when qualified Labradorians were available.
But Bennett also claims that, in each case, the outside worker was removed.
“We found a few cases where that has happened and we’ve had people removed from the site,” Bennett said in an interview with The Labradorian.
“The protocol is clear. It’s in the benefits agreement, it’s in the special project order. So, we’re all in a position where we understand what the process is.”
The issue of Muskrat Falls hiring practices has, once again, been put into the spotlight, following two recent protests.
Nalcor’s own hiring policy for the Muskrat Falls project states that Labradorians will have hiring priority, after members of the Innu Nation, followed by Newfoundlanders.
John Penny of Happy Valley-Goose Bay staged a one-man demonstration for three straight days between Feb. 8-10. Penny, a carpenter by trade, claimed that he was being passed over jobs on site in favour of Newfoundlanders.
Then, on Feb. 18, 20 Labrador men and women blocked off a portion of the Trans-Labrador Highway, preventing many workers from entering Muskrat Falls. Like Penny, most of them claimed that their job applications were being ignored, despite being qualified in their trade.
After protesting on the road for nearly three hours, the group met with Nalcor officials at the Nalcor office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The Nalcor reps talked with the protesters four at a time to discuss their concerns over hiring practices.
Bennett felt that the situation could have been resolved without a protest. He said Nalcor has staff in Happy Valley-Goose Bay who can help those who are having trouble with the hiring process.
“From my perspective, the 20 or 30 individuals who have concerns didn’t need to have a protest. They could have come into our office on Burnwood Drive, they could have sat down and spoken to our people and we’d be in a position to help them,” said Bennett.
“I think anyone who needs help with understanding the process . . . those are legitimate questions and that’s why we have the support team we do in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to try to address those.”
Bennett said Nalcor is committed to the hiring protocol in place, and pointed to the fact that 40 per cent of the workforce onsite were Labradorian, as of the latest benefits report.
“You think about travel and accommodations. There’s a common sense reason why you would want to have a local workforce,” said Bennett.
Bennett also believes the energy company could improve their communication, so that everyone knows what kind of mechanisms are in place for employment.
“We’re glad that they did come out because that gives us an opportunity to make contact and to help gain a common understanding,” said Bennett.
“The root cause of the issue here is we don’t have good enough communication. And what we’re trying to do is make sure people are understanding the resources that we do have.”
“I think we’re always looking for ways to improve that effort . . .”
One of the biggest complaints the group of protesters had was their difficulty in joining a union. But Bennett said a person could apply for a job first, and then become part of a union after being hired.
“So they will be signed into the union in order to work on site. So there is a clear process there. The union will permit them to become members of the union when a job arises.”
Bennett also pointed out that the workforce would be ramping up again this year, meaning more jobs will be available in the near future.
“I think, maybe, another source of the frustration is that the workforce decreased with the completion of the mass excavation. And now we’re going ramp up again this year in a very dramatic way.”