Police in Windsor, Ont., say they are expecting around 1,600 South Koreans to arrive to work on the town’s new electric-vehicle battery plant, which was heralded by the federal government as a major employer of Canadians.
On Monday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre expressed dismay that scores of jobs at the heavily subsidized NextStar factory could go to temporary workers from Korea, stripping promised employment from Canadians.
He told reporters in Ottawa that he wanted “a full inquiry” and for the Prime Minister to make public the contract with global auto giant Stellantis NV and South Korean battery maker LG Energy Solution Ltd., to see what terms they had struck on jobs for Canadians.
“If Justin Trudeau has nothing to hide, he will make these terms public,” Mr. Poilievre said, adding that the level of subsidy meant that every Canadian would end up paying $1,000 toward the plant.
“They deserve to see what they’re paying for,” he said. “Make the contract public and prove that every single dollar will go to Canadian paycheques, not to temporary foreign workers.”
Unions have seized on a tweet by the Windsor Police Service last Thursday, the week when South Korean diplomatic staff, including an economic attaché from the Ottawa embassy, visited the city for discussions about the factory.
“With the new LG Energy Solutions battery plant being built, we expect approximately 1,600 South Koreans traveling to work and live in our community in 2024,” Windsor police posted on X.
The NextStar plant, being built with up to $15-billion in subsidies from the federal and Ontario governments, is the largest investment in the history of Canada’s auto sector.
It is expected to open next year and was touted to create 2,500 jobs in Windsor and the surrounding areas. But MPs, unions and construction trades groups are ringing alarm bells after a Korean company began recruiting in Windsor for jobs at the factory.
The federal employment department has already granted permission for a temporary foreign worker to fill an administrative role, on the grounds that a Canadian could not be found.
Sean Strickland, executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, told The Globe and Mail on Monday that the unions wanted “an opportunity to sit down with the executives of the NextStar Energy EV Plant to understand their labour requirements” before the situation “becomes unrepairable.” He added that Canadian workers have technical skills, including at auto factories.
On Monday, Windsor NDP MP Brian Masse raised the issue in the House of Commons, saying the federal and Ontario governments had committed to jobs and training guarantees at the factory. He asked the federal Liberals to give assurances that jobs at the heavily subsidized plant be unionized and go to people from Windsor and the area, and that “not a single cent goes to temporary foreign workers.”
Ontario Labour Minister David Piccini told reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday that it was up to the federal government to explain how it is allowing the use of South Korean temporary foreign workers, as the borders come under federal jurisdiction.
“My message is simple, Ontario jobs first,” he said.
Mr. Piccini said he was unaware of the plans to bring in foreign workers when the deal to add billions in extra subsidies for the plant was reached in the spring.
Asked if it was not common practice to bring in specialized foreign workers to set up sophisticated proprietary equipment, Mr. Piccini insisted locals could do the jobs just as well.
“We’ve got world-class workers here who can do the job – do the drywalling, do the framing, do everything that we need,” he said.
Jeil, a Korean company known for precision machinery transportation with a long-term partnership with LG, has set up a corporation in Canada to carry out installation and assembly for NextStar.
Jeil is advertising for an operations manager-administrative services at the plant. To fill the role, the federal employment department has approved a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), which allows a company to bring in a foreign worker.
Samuelle Carbonneau, a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada, said this is the only LMIA in place for the EV battery plant. She added that the department is currently looking into the situation at NextStar.
Irek Kusmierczyk, parliamentary secretary to Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault, said in the Commons that an LMIA is only allowed “when Canadians or permanent residents are unable or unavailable to do a job.”
Mr. Kusmierczyk, who is also a Windsor MP, said “2½-thousand full-time positions will be created at the Windsor battery plant and an additional 2,500 local tradespeople will be engaged.”
Danies Lee, chief executive of NextStar Energy, has told The Globe that installing the equipment at the plant requires staff from abroad with specialist skills.
He added that the company was “fully committed to hiring Canadians to fill more than 2,500 full-time positions at the Windsor battery facility and are engaging up to an additional 2,300 tradespeople locally and throughout the province.”
A spokeswoman for the Korean embassy confirmed that diplomatic staff had been in Windsor last week but declined to comment further.
With a report from Jeff Gray