Poilivere wants to investigate: NextStar says Korean workers are not permanent

Poilivere wants to investigate: NextStar says Korean workers are not permanent

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While the Liberal government faced criticism Monday over concerns that NextStar Energy’s plant in Windsor will fill its ranks with foreign workers — including calls for an investigation from Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre — project leaders said the non-Canadian workers would be temporary.

Star workers are temporarily coming from Japan and South Korea to set up specialized machines, but they will still need support from local employees, said Danny Lee, CEO of NextStar Energy.

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Once the factory is ready, Lee said the company will permanently employ about 2,500 Canadians.

“These people are suppliers, they come to take the lead in installing the equipment,” Li said. “They obviously need support from local residents, who are also doing this installation work.”

After MP Brian Masse (NDP-Windsor West) and a few Conservatives wrote a letter on November 17 to the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology about their “deeply troubling concerns,” Poilievre on Monday called for an investigation.

Poilievre said he wants answers about “how many taxpayer-funded jobs will go to temporary foreign workers.” He also called for the terms of the agreement to be made public – with the federal and provincial governments providing up to $15 billion in incentives.

“We now know that the $15 billion grant for the Stellantis plant will fund mostly non-Canadian jobs,” Poilievre said. “They are not immigrants. We love jobs for immigrants. Jobs for people who are not Canadian citizens and will never be Canadian citizens. They will come here, take a taxpayer-funded salary and take it home. I love South Korea. Great country. But they don’t fund jobs for Canadians, “We shouldn’t be funding jobs for their workers. Our money should be funding our salaries. Make it home.”

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If no one here was qualified to do construction work, they could have been trained, Massey told the Star on Monday.

“I don’t think we have a labor shortage,” said Massey, who raised the issue Monday during Question Period. “But even if we were short-staffed, within a year and a half, we could have trained people. We did that all the time at Windsor. I don’t buy the argument at first. But if they’re going to rely on that, what have you been doing for the last year and a half, Instead of actually training workers?

“It’s not that complicated. We’ve been doing this all our lives. Tools, molds, mold making, everything.

The letter he co-signed notes that some initial job openings at the battery plant received a labor market impact assessment, which is required when a company in Canada wants to hire foreign workers.

“The undersigned committee members call for an emergency meeting in order to adequately address these deeply disturbing revelations and to ensure that jobs at the Stellantis-LG battery manufacturing plant in Windsor are filled with Canadian workers,” the letter read.

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NextStar Electrical Construction
Workers help install infrastructure at a NextStar EV battery factory in Windsor on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. Photography by Dan Janis /Windsor Star

Canada has so far allowed one position at the plant under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, for an operations manager in Administrative Services, said Eric Kusmerczyk (L-Windsor-Tecumseh).

“The reason is that the TFW program is structured in a way that prioritizes Canadian workers,” said Kosmierczyk, who is also Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labor and responsible for the program. “The only way you can be approved to be a TFW is if there is no Canadian worker available to do the work. There are safeguards.”

He said that the construction of the factory was entirely done by local merchants. The equipment installation phase will require foreign expertise and training, but he said the message was still to “maximize” the use of local workers as much as possible.

Outside help is needed because this will be Canada’s first battery factory, with “an entire industry built from scratch” in Windsor, Kusmerczyk said.

“The absolute vast majority of the workers on this project, in this plant, will be local and Canadian,” he said. “But it stands to reason that when you are building this completely new industry from scratch, there will be some workers from Korea here sharing their expertise because they have been building batteries for 30 years. LG is the world leader in battery manufacturing.

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When the plant is up and running, he said everyone hired at NextStar to build the batteries will be Canadian.

Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan and Philomena Tassie, the minister responsible for the federal development agency for southern Ontario, had similar messages last week during their visits to Windsor.

“As we move forward, we will do everything we can to ensure these jobs are filled by Canadian workers who have the skills to take on those jobs,” Tassie said.

The Star reported in August that the company planned to bring nearly 1,500 foreign specialized workers temporarily to Windsor, most of them to set up the plant and its machinery.

Automate Canada president Dave Fortin said it’s not uncommon for companies that make machines to send their own employees to set them up, wherever that may be.

“No local companies, and probably no North American companies at all, are building any of the machines inside this factory,” he said.

He said many companies will likely send workers to the Windsor plant to install machines they have built.

“Each of them has their own workers that they have to send out to operate their machines,” he said. “NextStar doesn’t ask them. They say, ‘We made the machine, we need to make sure it works, and we’ll send 20 guys or 50 guys out for three or six months to make sure my machine works.’ Then they’ll leave.”

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There are also usually warranty requirements that companies that built the machines must prepare, Fortin said.

Canadian companies do it all the time, including those in Windsor, he said.

“It’s no different than what Canadian companies might do,” Fortin said. “If a company like CenterLine, for example, makes a complete welding line and ships the welding line to Mexico or Arizona, they’ll send a bunch of their guys to get that machine up and running. And then they’ll leave.”

“Anyone who makes a very large piece of machinery will certainly send people there to support it. This is absolutely common sense.”

He told me that the people who will come to set up the factory will not stay here when this work is finished. He also reiterated his previous commitment on Monday to hire about 2,500 people from the region once the factory is operational.

“I hope it will be in the Windsor area,” he said. “But if not, the Ontario area. It depends on the availability of people.”

-With files from Dave Waddell



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