Muskrat Falls workers off the job but still getting paid

Workers hired to string transmission lines from Muskrat Falls to southern Labrador have been off the job since early June, but their paycheques have not stopped.

150 workers on standby for 2 months while Nalcor sorts out problem

This photo from the Nalcor website shows work being done in May 2016 to string conductor wire across the Churchill River. (Muskratfalls.nalcorenergy.com)

For more than two months, workers contracted to string transmission lines from Muskrat Falls to southern Labrador have been off the job, but they're still collecting paycheques.

According to Nalcor, 150 people were sent home in early June, when a problem with the transmission line was discovered. Nalcor described the problem as "an unusual anomaly" that would need to be investigated before work could continue.

Nalcor spokesperson Karen O'Neill said in an email the corporation and subcontractor Valard decided to pay the 150-person crew a "standby rate" until they could get back to work.

"To help minimize schedule impacts, it is critical that trained and skilled workers are available to quickly mobilize once full stringing operations commence," O'Neill wrote.

"With the retention of the previously trained workers ready to quickly start work, this will minimize any further delay once the decision is made to restart full stringing of the transmission wire."

Workers are cooling their heels, while Nalcor investigates unusual patterns on the wire conductor of the transmission line between Muskrat Falls and southern Labrador. (Nalcor)

Valard employees are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1620. According to its collective agreement, workers make between $45.68 and $56.62 per hour.

Nalcor said the standby rate is paid out based on a 40-hour work week.

Cause, total cost not known

O'Neill said the total cost of paying the standby rate while work is on hold is not yet known.

"The total cost of the impact of the anomaly and investigation remain [to] be determined once the root cause investigation is completed," she wrote.

Nalcor previously described the problem as a "technical issue" that had to do with an "inconsistent pattern" in metal strands which make up the conductor wire.

Nalcor said experts are closing in on a solution.

They're testing a modified conductor wire and have asked the supplier to send even more modified wire. If all goes according to plan, employees will be back on the job in early fall.

There's no word on how the summer's delay will affect the project schedule.

"Workers who are directly impacted by the suspension of the stringing operations are not part of the crews currently living in the LIL (Labrador-Island Link) camps/accommodations facilities," Nalcor said in an email.

"Other work on the transmission line is ongoing and these Valard workers are continuing their work."