Update: Premier weighs in on labor dispute for Site C hydro project in Canada

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has instructed Jessica McDonald, executive officer of BC Hydro, to change the contract terms for the 1,100-MW Site C hydro project to allow unions to organize at the construction site.

This intervention comes shortly after the BC and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council filed a lawsuit against BC Hydro.

Bids are due to close this month on the first large contract, for site preparation, for construction of this dam and hydro project, expected to cost nearly C$8.8 billion. Construction is expected to start on the project, located on the Peace River, in the summer of 2015, and it will provide about 10,000 direct construction jobs.

For more than 50 years, BC Hydro has built its major projects using labor agreements that ensured no strikes and no lockouts. Non-union contractors could bid on the work, but workers had to belong to one of the building trade unions.

But a new model was proposed for Site C, consisting of an open-shop format under which contractors would be able to bring in non-union workers and the unions would be prohibited from organizing those workers or trying to get them to join unionized projects. BC Hydro said this new arrangement would promote stability in the work force and giver contractors access to the largest pool of skilled and experienced workers, news agencies reported.

However, the position of the council, which says the proposed change violates the federal Charter of Rights, is that the right to join a union is protected under the law. This means BC Hydro cannot stipulate such a restriction in its contracts, the council says.

In a statement released March 3, the council said, “We thank Premier Clark for standing behind BC workers. As it is proposed, BC Hydro’s labour model won’t be able to ensure a reliable supply of trades people, injecting serious financial risk into this vital public project.”

The province of British Columbia approved the Site C Clean Energy Project in December 2014, concluding it will provide BC with the most affordable, reliable clean power for more than 100 years, according to a press release. Over the first 50 years of Site C’s life, ratepayers will save an average of $650 million to $900 million each year compared to alternatives, the provincial government says.

The population of the province and its economy are growing, and the demand for power is expected to increase by 40% over the next 20 years.

The Site C project has faced considerable controversy recently, with legal opposition from groups that include the Treat 8 Tribal Association and Peace Valley Landowners Association.

Site C will be the third hydroelectric project on the Peace River, joining 2,730-MW G.M. Shrum and 694-MW Peace Canyon. The site was chosen for potential development in 1976.

HydroWorld.com also recently reported on an executive reorganization at BC Hydro.

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