New Brunswick

Province won't screen out-of-province workers to see if N.B. labour can perform job

The government will not be screening out-of-province construction workers entering New Brunswick to determine if they’re really needed here, despite recent comments by Premier Blaine Higgs.

Premier Blaine Higgs suggested construction workers entering N.B. would be assessed to determine if needed

Out-of-province construction workers have to either self-isolate for 14 days or the company they work for has to submit a plan showing how the workers will stay away from New Brunswickers. (CBC)

The government will not be screening out-of-province construction workers entering New Brunswick to determine if they're really needed here, despite recent comments by Premier Blaine Higgs.

New COVID-19 policies limiting travel into the province do not include an assessment of whether a New Brunswick worker is able to do a job being filled by someone from outside, the Department of Public Safety confirmed Wednesday.

Higgs suggested otherwise in an interview with CBC's The House last Saturday.

Asked about provincial border controls, Higgs said it would be "a balancing act" between allowing construction season to get underway and assessing whether out-of-province workers were really needed given the risk of COVID-19.

"It's also understanding very clearly, 'why are you coming to New Brunswick?'" he said. "If they have contracts and they're coming here, are they indeed contracts that can't be done by people here in the province, or is it indeed an expertise that we need from outside?"

Adding to the confusion was a statement Tuesday by the Department of Public Safety that decisions "on what jobs can be done by workers in the province" are made ahead of time "via their employer and/or WorkSafe NB."

Departments don't dictate hiring

But it's now apparent there is no such screening underway either at the border or elsewhere and the province has no say in whether out-of-province employees are hired for long-term work.

"No department dictates whether any company can hire someone from New Brunswick or elsewhere," Coreen Enos, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said in an emailed statement.

"Nor does any department assess whether the work can be done by a company in-province before looking out-of-province."

Employers, including contractors on major projects, sometimes hire out-of-province labour if no one locally has the skills or experience required. Some contractors based outside New Brunswick will bring some of their existing workforce into the province on projects.

"We expect that some companies planning to bring in outside workers will contemplate hiring under-employed New Brunswickers instead, but that's not a requirement," Enos said.

2 options from WorkSafe NB 

WorkSafe NB is assessing how employers using out-of-province workers will comply with COVID-19 safety measures, but that doesn't include looking at whether New Brunswickers could or should be hired instead. 

"We still do not make the determination of whether an out-of-province worker may take a job in New Brunswick or whether that job could be done by someone already here," WorkSafeNB said in a statement.

"The employer determines if the work can be done by someone who lives in New Brunswick or if they must look outside the province to hire, contract or subcontract someone with the required skill or competency.

"Our role is only to approve the isolation elements of an employer's operational plan and to monitor compliance."

Construction companies that bring out-of-province workers to New Brunswick have to follow guidelines from WorkSafeNB. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The WorkSafeNB guidelines lay out two options for employers bringing in workers from outside the province.

They either have to ensure the workers self-isolate for 14 days, similar to requirements for others who are allowed to travel into New Brunswick, or they must submit a plan 15 days in advance on how the workers will stay away from New Brunswickers.

The plan must go to WorkSafeNB and must show that the employer will keep the workers isolated from New Brunswickers "during work hours and while off duty" and also while they travel between their accommodations and the worksite. 

Higgs referred to those requirements at a media briefing Monday.

"We want to understand that they are absolutely isolating in their particular jobs site and they're not coming right in and working with New Brunswick workers," he said. "That would make it very difficult." 

Exceptions to self-isolation rules

There are exceptions for people who commute across the provincial border daily between home and work, such as employees of two chicken processing plants in Madawaska County near the Quebec border

There are also exceptions for urgent work on "critical infrastructure" for which no New Brunswick workers are available, including telecommunications, transportation, data, fuel, electricity, manufacturing, water and wastewater, health and financial systems.

Premier Blaine Higgs's suggestion that out of province workers would be screened to determine if a worker in the province could do the job instead is not something any government department can dictate. (Government of New Brunswick/Submitted)
The moves to accommodate employers in the construction sector are a contrast to the total ban on new temporary foreign workers coming in to fill vacancies on farms and in seafood processing plants.

Last month Higgs announced a ban on any new temporary foreign workers coming to New Brunswick, saying the risk of more COVID-19 infections was too great. 

That ban was imposed despite farm groups and seafood processors insisting that they were prepared to isolate their foreign workers for the 14 days to comply with Public Health rules.

Earlier this spring Ottawa announced $50 million to help farmers and agri-food businesses safely add foreign workers to their plants.

Despite that, Higgs declared last month that having more foreign workers enter the province would present a risk of new coronavirus transmission.

He proposed at the time that some foreign workers already in the province could be allowed to switch jobs to fill some of the farm and processing vacancies. The federal government announced this week it was simplifying the procedure to allow them to do that. 

15 out-of-province workers needed in Saint John

Companies planning to bring in out-of-province workers say they'll be able to comply with the provincial rules.

Quebec-based Pomerleau Inc., one of the general contractors on the $205-million modernization of the Port of Saint John, said it needs to bring about 15 people from outside New Brunswick to the project, most of them in administrative roles.

"We are working with Worksafe NB and the local health authorities to ensure we provide a safe work environment to all our employees and partners," said Debby Cordeiro, the company's vice-president of communications.

She said in an email statement the company has implemented "a vast array of rigorous sanitary measures" at its job sites and will follow all Public Health requirements.

J.D. Irving Ltd. spokesperson Mary Keith said the company will need only one specialized worker from outside the province among the 175 it will employ on an upcoming scheduled maintenance shutdown at its Lake Utopia mill.

She said no one in New Brunswick is certified to maintain the specialized equipment needed for the work.

"We are in communication with Worksafe NB to ensure full compliance" with the new guidelines that apply to the one out-of-province worker, Keith said.

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