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Irving defends hiring practice following outsourcing controversy

Irving Shipbuilding is the prime contractor of the government’s multi-billion dollar program to provide new icebreaking warships for the Navy’s Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships program.

It was initially estimated that the contract, estimated to cost around $3.5  billion, would create more than 8,700 direct and indirect jobs in Canada – 3,400 of those positions were to be in Nova Scotia.

But recently, the union representing workers in Irving’s Halifax shipyard have raised concerns that the company has begun hiring foreign workers for positions jobs which could be done by locals.

A report by the Chronicle Herald said that Irving subcontracted Gabadi LC, a Spanish outfitting firm, for the “turnkey outfitting” work on the AOPS vessels being built in the shipyard. According to the report, a union official had confirmed that Gabadi now has 15 carpenters (also known as fitters) working in the facility and some 30 more are expected to arrive in the next few months.

Needless to say, the optics is not very good for Irving. However, the company has confirmed reports of its outsourcing some of the work on the AOPS contract.

“In terms of subcontracting work, the same rules with respect to non-Canadian individuals still applies. Where there isn’t a long term need for specific work, it makes good sense to subcontract,” a statement recently released by the company said. “In this case of the work contracted out to Gabadi, a Spanish company that manufactures and installs interior furnishings which was highlighted in the Chronicle Herald article, the specialist skill required for the peak periods followed by periods of no work make it difficult to train and retains skilled workers permanently.”

According to Irving, it is normal for world class shipyards in both Europe and the United States to subcontract this type of work, “specifically due to the uneven activity levels.”

The company also said it explained this to its union last year and that Irving was “pleased to come to an agreement that was approved by all parties.”

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More than 96 per cent of Irving Shipbuilding’s 1,500 person workforce is Canadian, but the company has had to resort to outsourced labour from time to time.

“Because Canada has not had a naval new build program in place for almost 25 years, some specific shipbuilding expertise does not exist in Canada or we have exhausted efforts to recruit Canadians for certain positions,” according to Irving. “Under these exceptional circumstances, skilled workers need to be sought internationally.”

International workers at Irving are mainly brought through Labour Market Impact Assessment process which requires the employer to demonstrate that it has actively tried to fill positions in Canada first.

“Many of these individuals intend to eventually become permanent residents or Canadian citizens and will contribute greatly to increasing the shipbuilding knowledge, experience and expertise of our current workforce,” Irving said. “Indeed, any number of Canadian industries occasionally are forced to hire abroad when domestic talent just cannot be sourced.”


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