Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne says he plans to hold face-to-face talks with the company setting up an electric-vehicle battery plant in Windsor, Ont., to ensure Canadians will not be sidelined in favour of foreign workers brought in to fit out the factory.
Mr. Champagne said he wants to ask NextStar Energy about “the minimum amount of foreign workers we need” to assemble and install specialized equipment at the factory after the company revealed it plans to bring in up to 900 technicians from abroad, most of them from South Korea, for that work.
The company’s disclosure angered unions and MPs who argue there are skilled workers in Windsor with experience fitting out technical equipment in auto factories.
Sean Strickland, executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, said how the factory is being set up is not in keeping with “how projects like this typically work.”
“Bringing approximately 900 South Korean workers to handle the installation of this equipment is not only an insult to Canadian taxpayers who funded this project with the understanding that jobs were going to Canadians, but it is a slap in the face to our workers and contractors, including those in Windsor, who are the most highly skilled tradespeople in the world,” he said in an e-mail.
“We’re at the beginning of truly grasping the impact, but we can already share that Canada is losing out on millions of valuable hours for its workers.”
The NextStar plant is being built with up to $15-billion in subsidies from the federal and Ontario governments. The Windsor factory is a joint venture between global auto giant Stellantis and South Korean battery maker LG Energy Solution.
Speaking to reporters in Parliament on Friday, Mr. Champagne said he had “constructive” talks with the Building Trades Union that morning about the number of temporary foreign workers being brought in to work on the plant.
He said he wanted to “maximize opportunities for Canadians” and was pleased the CEO of NextStar had said there will be 2,500 jobs for Canadians to operate the plant, and up to 2,300 jobs for Canadians to build it.
But Mr. Champagne said he has heard “a number of numbers” about foreign workers and he wanted to sit down with the company to get clarification about how many will be employed.
“We’re going to sit down with the unions, we’re going to sit down with the company, and [make] sure … what is the minimum amount of foreign workers we need to transfer the technologies, and the know-how to our Canadian workers to be successful for decades.”
“We want to maximize opportunities for Canadians,” he added.
He said the $15-billion subsidy from the federal and Ontario governments for the plant is “deeply conditional.” NextStar is putting up $3.4-billion, alongside $500-million each from the federal and the Ontario governments, to build the plant, he said.
Rick Perkins, Conservative industry critic, said “today Minister Champagne finally admitted he has no idea how many Canadian jobs will actually be created.”
He added in a statement with Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus that the planned multibillion-dollar Northvolt EV battery plant in Quebec will also bring in hundreds of foreign workers “to fill jobs that should be going to Quebecers, despite over $7 billion in taxpayer subsidies for this project.”
In a statement to The Globe and Mail Thursday, NextStar Energy said that about 1,600 original equipment manufacturer technicians, employed by external technology suppliers, will assemble, install and test the specialized equipment needed to make its batteries. Up to 900 of the technicians will be temporary global staff, predominantly from South Korea, who have specific knowledge of the equipment and will see the installation through, and then return home.
Ontario Trade Minister Vic Fedeli said he spoke on Friday to Danies Lee, CEO of NextStar Energy, who confirmed that “during its construction phase, NextStar’s network of external suppliers will use up to 900 highly skilled, temporary foreign workers to assist in assembling and installing equipment for Canada’s first battery manufacturing facility.”
Mr. Fedeli said he was told the foreign workers will help train 700 Ontario workers. A further 1,600 Ontario workers will be employed to construct the factory, with another 2,500 employed to work there when it is up and running.
“NextStar Energy remains committed to creating 2,500 full-time positions in Windsor, Ont. for Canadians at our new battery facility,” Mr. Lee said in an e-mailed statement.