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The NextStar Energy EV battery manufacturing plant in Windsor, Ont. is photographed by a drone on Nov. 25, 2023. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The hiring of 900 temporary foreign workers to install equipment at the flagship EV factory in Windsor, Ont., will cost Canadian skilled construction workers around $300-million in lost wages and contractor fees, the leader of Canada’s Building Trades Unions says.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, executive director Sean Strickland said local Windsor contractors with experience fitting out factories for automakers have been submitting quotations for installing equipment at the Windsor plant since August, but have yet to get a response from NextStar, the company running the factory.

The NextStar plant is being built with up to $15-billion in subsidies from the federal and Ontario governments. It is a joint venture between global auto giant Stellantis STLA-N and South Korean battery maker LG Energy Solution.

Last week, NextStar disclosed that 900 temporary foreign workers would be coming to install technical equipment at the plant and going home once the work is done.

Irek Kusmierczyk, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Employment Minister who is also a local Windsor MP, told The Globe that the temporary foreign workers will come from Korea and Japan to help install the machinery.

The 900 foreign workers would work alongside 700 Canadians to install 300 machines “the size of a house” contained in 9,000 shipping containers, he said.

The Liberal MP toured the vast factory site on the weekend and met Danies Lee, chief executive of NextStar, for two hours. He said he impressed on Mr. Lee the skills held by local Canadians, who stand to gain thousands of permanent jobs at the factory.

Once the factory is up and running, he said, there would also be “Koreans at the battery plant working alongside the 2,500 local workers.”

“My message when I met with Danies Lee is we want to maximize as much as possible local jobs,” he said.

Windsor police say they expect 1,600 Koreans to work at EV battery plant

On Monday, Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne refused to specify how many foreign workers would be acceptable at the plant.

“I mean you can’t tell a number. You’d have to talk to the people who know these things. You have to look at, you know, what’s the machinery? Where’s the equipment coming from?,” he told reporters in Parliament. “Anyone who’s guessing numbers, they don’t know what they’re talking about. You have to talk to the engineers on the ground, to the people. … you know, there is a number of things. It’s very detailed.”

Mr. Strickland says he wants to meet with NextStar to explain the expertise that Canadian contractors, including electricians, pipe fitters and iron and sheet-metal workers based in Windsor, have in installing complex equipment, and that technical roles do not have to be taken by foreign workers. He said contractors based in Windsor have installed machinery at plants for Tesla and Stellantis.

He said the jobs to be filled by the temporary foreign workers would be worth an estimated 2.8 million hours of work – worth $300-million in wages and contractors’ fees – to Canadians. He said the estimate was conservative and does not include overtime.

On Monday, the Conservatives criticized the decision to bring in foreign workers at the factory and pressed the government to publish the contract with NextStar to see what guarantees it included to hire Canadian workers.

A number of Conservative MPs, including Leader Pierre Poilievre, argued in Question Period that Canadians who are subsidizing the plant have a right to see the contract.

With the support of the Bloc Québécois, Tory MPs also made the case at an emergency meeting of the government operations committee that the contracts should be published to see what guarantees there are for Canadian jobs.

They said that if the government fails to make the contracts public, the committee should be able to ask the House of Commons to make an order to force them to show the contracts to MPs.

The move was opposed by the Liberals. Mr. Kusmierczyk said the contracts contain commercially sensitive information and publishing them could jeopardize future investment in Canada.

MPs on the Commons industry committee decided last week to view the contract behind closed doors, but they will not be allowed to reveal its content. Conservative industry critic Rick Perkins argued that Canadian taxpayers, who are footing the bill for billions in subsidies, have a right to see the fine print themselves.

The Conservatives accused the government of changing its story on how many foreign workers would be working at the plant.

But Mr. Kusmierczyk said bringing in foreign workers with expertise to install equipment was usual practice at such plants. He drew a parallel with the LG Energy Solution battery plant in Poland where Korean workers also helped install the equipment.

In September, LG Energy Solution said it took longer to boost production at the Polish plant partly because of a difference in approach by local workers.

Chief technology officer Youngjoon Shin said at the Korea Investment Week conference in Seoul in September that local workers “are not good at handling something that we didn’t give instructions for,” Bloomberg reported.

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