Nfld. & Labrador

Nickel company fears worker shortage in Nfld.

A Vale official says the mining company is having trouble finding the all the skilled workers it needs to build a nickel processing plant in Long Harbour.

Vale says skilled workers not returning from Alberta as quickly as expected

Construction at the Long Harbour nickel processing facility is expected to be completed in 2013. (CBC)

A Vale official says the Brazil-based mining giant is having trouble finding all the skilled workers it needs to build a nickel processing plant in Long Harbour.

There are now nearly 2,000 employees working at the site of the $2.75-billion facility about 110 kilometres west of St. John's.

Vale nickel processing facility project director Ronaldo Stefan said the company needs about 3,500 workers in 2012.

The plant that's scheduled to open in 2013 will process nickel concentrate produced at the Voisey’s Bay mine in Labrador.

"We're doing everything we can to source people now across Newfoundland and Labrador, Atlantic provinces, but also in the rest of Canada," said Stefan.

He said the company needs many different types of skilled workers, including ironworkers, pipe fitters, crane operators and scaffolders. The company fears the shortage will become worse after the Hebron project begins hiring workers to build its offshore oil drilling facilities.

He said the company is hoping to bring back Newfoundland and Labrador workers who’ve gone to western provinces, such as Alberta, but is disappointed with the number of workers that have returned so far.

"We see some of it, but I don’t think we are seeing it to the extent we were hoping to see it," he said.

"We have Long Harbour started but we are still seeing a six to seven year horizon of work versus Alberta which is offering multiple decades of work that are still ahead of people."

Stefan said Vale hopes to attract workers to Long Harbour with good wages, a well-equipped, safe workplace and the promise of a good quality of life in Newfoundland.

Vale is offering worker pay that is on par with what other equivalent workers in Atlantic Canada are paid, according to Stefan.

The plant will use hydrometallurgy technology developed and tested by Vale in Canada. Once running, it will be the first in the world to process concentrate from nickel sulphide ore directly into finished nickel, eliminating airborne emissions and increasing the amount of metal recovered from the concentrate, Vale says on its website.