The BC Building Trades and Allied Hydro Council are responding to B.C.'s approval of the Site C project with "guarded optimism."
Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the B.C. Building Trades, is unsure if Site C officials have thought hard enough about how they will source all the skilled labour needed for the nine-year project.
"All major dam construction in British Columbia has been done under Project Labour Agreements by members of the building trades," said Sigurdson.
"This partnership with BC Hydro has led to the training of thousands of apprentices on dam projects over the last 50 years, collaborations with First Nations and communities across this province, and environmental and safety practices that have made BC Hydro a world leader."
He noted that it has been roughly 30 years since the province did a major hydro project.
Working with then premier W.A.C. Bennett, building trades unions formed the Allied Hydro Council in 1963 to provide qualified, highly skilled labour for the construction of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam.
Since then, the council has provided a labour force for the construction of all major dams in B.C. under every government administration.
According to Building Trades, the Project Labour Agreement model did not provide unions with a monopoly on work. Instead, it set out clear standards and guidelines for labour supply and site conditions for union and non-union contractors.
"Any project of the scale of Site C requires a skilled labour force that is well managed and available if the risks of budget overruns, failure to meet critical timelines, and quality of work are to be managed effectively," said Sigurdson. "The proven Allied Hydro Council model has also demonstrated its success in including First Nations workers and communities and providing unmatched apprenticeship opportunities to train the workers for the future."
Wayne Peppard, business representative for the Allied Hydro Council, said the council is prepared to work with BC Hydro to offer the best managed labour model to deal with the elements of uncertainty.
"We have thousands of highly skilled and experienced British Columbians who are recognized throughout the globe for their world-class dam construction - let's put them to work to build Site C," added Peppard.
Industry Training Authority Chief Executive Officer Gary Herman said he is going to work with BC Hydro to work on innovating training solutions. He said it will be an opportunity to use mobile trailer training units and do potential in-camp training.
Construction industry officials said BC Hydro consulted them prior to the approval decision to try and address one of the project's major hurdles: finding skilled workers. One of the solutions that has been adopted is making the site open to union and non-union workers.
Sigurdson said if the union and non-union workers have different labour agreements for pay, pension and benefits, it could create issues on the site.
"I think without having one agreement to apply to all the workers it could be a pretty significant problem that I don't think they have considered. Allied agreements mean all workers in categories got the same deal. Nobody was treated differently," he said.
However, Sigurdson noted that as the project moves forward and more detail is revealed, how the issue of labour is going to be addressed will become clearer.
To read a letter to the editor from Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president Philip Hochstein in response to this letter, click here.