Plan to bring in South Korean workers for NextStar battery plant sparks backlash
NextStar CEO says workers being brought in for their 'specialized expertise'
A spokesperson for Canada's minister of employment says they have not seen "reasonable justification" from NextStar for the use of temporary workers from South Korea, as the news sparks backlash among politicians who want to see jobs go to Canadians because of the massive subsidies the EV battery plant received.
The NextStar EV battery factory, a partnership between Stellantis and LG Energy Solution, received about $15 billion in subsidies from the federal and provincial governments.
Windsor's police chief met with the South Korean ambassador last week ahead of the arrival of the workers next year. According to a social media post from the police service, about 1,600 South Korean workers are coming to Windsor for the project.
NextStar CEO Danis Lee in a statement that equipment installation at the facility required the workers.
"The equipment installation phase of the project requires additional temporary specialized global supplier staff who have proprietary knowledge and specialized expertise that is critical to the successful construction and launch of Canada's first large-scale battery manufacturing facility."
The company said it was "fully committed" to hiring more than 2,500 Canadians and 2,300 local tradespeople for the construction and equipment installation.
A spokesperson for Randy Boissonnault, minister of employment, workforce development and official languages, said they expect "all businesses operating in Canada to use and benefit from the skilled workers in this country."
"We have not yet seen a reasonable justification for needing to bring in large numbers of foreign workers and would ask NextStar to prioritize Canadian talent," said Farrah Kerkadi, press secretary to the minister.
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Kerkadi said a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) has been submitted and approved for one staff member.
"We will continue to closely monitor any further requests for Temporary Foreign Workers from NextStar."
LMIA applications are made to the government to demonstrate the employer needs international labour when the domestic labour market is insufficient.
Federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre raised the issue in a news conference on Monday, calling for an inquiry into how many of the jobs will go to temporary foreign workers.
"And now we learn that the $15-billion grant to the Stellantis plant will fund mostly jobs for non Canadians — not immigrants, we love jobs for immigrants — jobs for people who are not Canadian citizens and will not be Canadian citizens," he said.
"They will come here, get a taxpayer-funded paycheque and take it back to their country."
Over the summer, NextStar began hiring for the first 130 jobs at the facility, including for roles in HR, communications and finance as well as engineers.
On Monday, Unifor national president Lana Payne said reports on the matter raised "serious flags" for the union, which represents workers at Stellantis' Windsor Assembly Plant.
"We believe the shift to electric vehicles must be led by good jobs, with union contracts, for workers in Canada," Payne said. "Workers should not be subject to exploitative hiring programs, like the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, that was significantly expanded under the Harper Conservatives but also endorsed by consecutive federal governments, Payne said.
But, she said, clarifying statements from the company have "alleviated some of our union's immediate concerns."
"To be clear, our union will closely monitor the hiring process to ensure Canadian workers are first to benefit from this historic investment in the auto sector and that NextStar fulfils its stated commitment to good jobs in Canada."
WATCH: Masse speaks on South Korean workers coming to work on NextStar
In a press conference Monday afternoon, NDP MP Brian Masse (Windsor West) said the news was "shocking."
"At no point in time did I ever expect … that we wouldn't have Windsorites or people from Essex County or people from all over Ontario and other parts of Canada, building the facilities and the cars and the parts and … of course the batteries … especially given the high degree of subsidies that are taking place," Masse said.
During question period on Monday, Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk (Windsor-Tecumseh) spoke about the Canadian jobs the project will bring and condemned Poilievre for his comments.
"I am proud that it was this Liberal government that delivered the battery plant for Windsor, including 2,500 jobs," he said.
"We will continue to work with unions, will continue to work with Stellantis to make sure that local Canadian workers are prioritized … We believe in Canadian workers. We believe in electric vehicles. We believe in climate change. Why is the Conservative leader so against the battery plant, so against Canadian workers and is completely empty on climate change?"
On Friday, NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky (Windsor West) wrote to Premier Doug Ford and provincial labour minister David Piccini noting "significant concern that NextStar and potentially many others in the EV battery supply chain will be relying on temporary foreign workers rather than local workers to build and operate the facility."
Foreign workers temporarily expected in battery electric sector: Auto forecaster
Joe McCabe is the president and CEO of Auto Forecast Solutions. He says that the end result of the NextStar facility is more employment for local workers — but news of South Korean workers coming to NextStar is "100 per cent" what he expected.
"This is what's going to happen with every partnership, especially in the electrification space with a foreign entity, and I think it's got to be sort of the pill that needs to be swallowed for a short amount of time," McCabe said.
"Anywhere you're going to partnership with a foreign entity, you're going to have representation from that foreign entity … at least for the kickoff, especially in a battery electric field."
Calls for an all-Canadian project from top to bottom are "short-sighted," he said, especially as the plant works to get up and running.
"I think you've got to bring the people that know the technology and are skilled and it's their backgrounds, their wheelhouse that come in, set the stage, make sure everything is ... running smoothly and then hand the keys off," he said.
"I think Canada should be very excited about the investment. It should be seen as an absolute win, especially in this space, especially in the North America market … I think there should be less about the short-term impact of who's involved with its success and more about the long-term viability on the Canadian economy and Canadian labour."
With files from Dalson Chen