Nalcor Energy is defending itself against criticism that far too few Labrador workers are being hired for the Muskrat Falls project.

This summer, more than 200 people worked at the construction site along the Churchill River, but only one in three of the workers hired live in Labrador.

While a Labradorians-first hiring policy was promised during environmental hearings, Nalcor — Newfoundland and Labrador's Crown energy corporation, and the proponent of the megaproject — says it is not yet doable.

 Gilbert Bennett, Nalcor's vice-president for the Lower Churchill project, said contractors are able to hire who they want.

"With those contractors, they have existing labour relations agreements, collective agreements, [and] they would have their existing personnel, so it would be difficult for me to comment on their actual hiring on site," he said.

Once the project is officially sanctioned, things will change, he said.

"We have relatively small scopes of work but when we get to the longer term project with much larger worker requirements, we'll see some much larger number of Labradorians employed on site," he said.

Formal approval pending

Even though Muskrat Falls has yet to receive the formal approval of the Newfoundland and Labrador government, Nalcor has been spending millions of dollars to build a road to the construction site, put up power lines and clear the area.

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Gilbert Bennett says Nalcor is limited in what it can force contractors to do until Muskrat Falls is formally sanctioned. (CBC )

Liberal MHA Yvonne Jones said Nalcor has to give top priority now to Labrador workers rather than wait for a formal agreement.

"If Labradorians are really going to have faith in this project and in [these]

commitments that Nalcor and government are going to make in Labrador, they're going to need to honour those policies right upfront," she said.

Meanwhile, Bennett noted that the Muskrat Falls project is being built on Innu land and that the project has the support of the Innu Nation. Consequently, once the project is sanctioned, Innu workers will have first pick of the jobs.

Over the summer, only nine workers or about five per cent of the workforce were Innu.