Concerns are rising over plans by NextStar Energy Inc. to bring in foreign workers to help build a battery plant in Windsor, Ont., that is being supported by an expected $15 billion in public funding.
Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said Monday that he is pushing for a full inquiry into the issue to find out how many workers the company plans to bring in from abroad.
"Our money should fund our paycheques," he said in Ottawa. "We want a commitment that none of the money should go to temporary foreign work."
It's not clear how many workers NextStar Energy, a joint venture between automaker Stellantis and South Korea's LG, plans to bring from outside Canada.
Concerns were raised in part from a social media post last week by Windsor police, who said that after meeting with South Korean ambassador Woongsoon Lim, it expected about 1,600 workers from South Korea to come to the community next year to help build the plant.
NextStar Energy chief executive Danies Lee said in a statement Monday that the company is committed to hiring Canadians to fill more than 2,500 full-time jobs at the battery plant, and engage with up to 2,300 more local tradespeople to help with construction and installation.
He said, however, that the company has to bring in workers to help build the advanced manufacturing plant.
"The equipment installation phase of the project requires additional temporary specialized global supplier staff who have proprietary knowledge and specialized expertise that is critical to the successful construction and launch of Canada's first large scale battery manufacturing facility."
Plans to bring in temporary foreign workers raises serious flags for Unifor, said national president Lana Payne in a statement.
Concerns emerge over foreign workers being hired to build Ontario battery plant. #onpoli #Windsor #batteries
She said Lee's clarifying statements have alleviated some of the union's immediate concerns, but they'll be watching the process closely.
"Our union will closely monitor the hiring process to ensure Canadian workers are first to benefit from this historic investment in the auto sector and that NextStar fulfils its stated commitment to good jobs in Canada.”
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she's still concerned that some jobs going to foreign workers could be done by local employees.
"My understanding is that many of the jobs that are being posted are jobs that Ontario workers, union workers, people in the region right now who need work can do," said Stiles.
"These jobs were promised to Ontarians, to Ontario workers, good union jobs."
She said Ontario's Progressive Conservative government should have made sure there were clauses in the public funding contracts that ensured the jobs go to local workers.
Ontario Labour Minister David Piccini deflected responsibility for foreign workers to the federal Liberals, while maintaining that local workers have the necessary skills.
"The work that we know needs to be done can be done by Ontario workers work," he said.
Federal Minister of Employment Randy Boissonnault did not immediately provide a response.
— With files from Liam Casey
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2023.