Saint John picketers block foreign workers from entering Canaport site

Tensions flared at a Saint John construction site Tuesday as protesters blocked dozens of foreign workers from entering the building site of the future Canaport LNG terminal.

Tensions flared at a Saint John construction site Tuesday as protesters blocked dozens of foreign workers from entering the building site of the future Canaport LNG terminal.

The insulators from Poland are in the city to help build the new liquefied natural gas terminal, but a group of four non-unionized workers claim the Europeans are taking away jobs from local people with the same skills.

Dozens of the project's unionized heat and frost insulators supported the four unemployed men who launched the protest, effectively keeping the bus carrying the Polish men from entering the job site. At times, the picketers got into heated arguments with people trying to get into the site.

Jeremy Mazerolle, one of the non-unionized insulators who started the protest, said he was left feeling "discouraged" by the loss of work.

"We've been trying to get in here [for] a year. Our names have been on the list to get in," he said.

"They're hiring more people from out of the country. There's just no jobs here for local people."

There are more than 100 foreign workers helping build the Canaport LNG terminal. The massive project is supposed to create 2,000 direct jobs in the city.

Union, federal government approved foreign workers

The foreign workers are employed in Saint John with the permission of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators, the same union that represents the workers who joined Tuesday's protest. Union officials are not commenting.

The company also had to get permission from the federal government to bring in the workers because there is an apparent shortage of skilled Canadians to do the work. The lack of skilled workers in Saint John is being disputed by some of the people who took part in Tuesday's protest.

Steve Grimwade is a union member who supports the non-unionized Saint John workers.

"We have absolutely nothing against the Polish workers here," Grimwade said.

"If they were from any other country or whatever, it would be the same thing."

None of the Polish workers could be reached for comment.

Carolyn Van der Veen, a spokesperson for Canaport LNG, said in an email that the dispute is between one of the project's contractors and some of its workers.

Van der Veen said she is confident the contractor and union will address the issue.

Last week, about 70 workers protested at the Courtney Bay Hotel in Saint John over the same issue. The matter was resolved that day by having the Polish workers take the day off.

The four protesters vow to return on Wednesday.