Vale says it had to hire foreign workers to complete projects at its Long Harbour site due to a shortage of skilled trades workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the rest of Canada.
Bob Carter, manager of corporate affairs for Vale in the province, said the company has tried to hire local first, but the need for specialized workers could not be met.
"There are now about 900 or so people working in Long Harbour who are from outside Newfoundland and Labrador in the trades that we need, and we've had to look outside Canada," Carter said, adding there are 3,500 workers in total at the site.
"Most recently the shortages that we've found most acute to us are in specialized welding trades and we've looked in the U.S. and Europe for those resources."
Carter said the company was able to recruit workers from Ireland for that work.
Local workers preferred, not available
According to Carter, the company's ideal solution would still be to hire local workers, but he said that's not realistic.
"We would much rather be using the resources that are close at home, but the fact of the matter is that there are so many large competing projects in Newfoundland and Labrador ... with Muskrat Falls and Hebron and ourselves running at the same time, as well as the work that we've seen over the last number of years in Western Canada, it's putting a lot of pressure on certain trades," he said.
"And these specialized welders who can work with stainless steel are very, very short on the supply side. (with) lots of demand, so we have to go where we can get the resources to get the job done."
Carter said those workers will help Vale complete its nickel processing plant by Oct. 31. If it finishes on schedule, Vale expects to begin producing nickel by early 2014.
Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Shea said in an email response to CBC that the government is keeping an eye on the project and the number of foreign workers.
But she said Vale has so far been following the rules around hiring, by seeking local workers first.