Friday, May 12, 2006

The Labour Shortage Myth

Shell has completed its Scotford Upgrader project. That means construction tradesmen will be looking for work. As Neil Waugh reports in yesterdays Edmonton Sun.

Celebration Time
But completion of $400M Shell project ends thousands of jobs

Willms talked about the "millions of hours of human effort" it took to build the plant over the last two years. But when the job is done the work is over. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers assistant business agent Wade Ashton informed me there are presently more than 2,600 guys on his list. The same thing is apparently happening at other hiring halls.

Truth be told the following comment is right on;

Oil sands projects by other companies have not been well budgeted, and costs escalated during construction, often largely because of poor organization by managers. CNQ drilling plans hit by rising costs

The Shell Upgrader at Scotford came in on time and on budget. And CNRL plans to do the same with its Horizon project. Since the begining of the Oil Sands companies like Bechtel and others constructing these large industrialized open pit mines, for thats what Tar Sands plants are, have deliberately run up operational costs. They have played fast and loose with construction costs because they know they can write it off as an expense paid for by the taxpayers of Alberta and Canada.

Canadian Natural has worked to avoid that fate. It has spent or committed $4-billion (Canadian) of the $6.8-billion it had budgeted for Horizon's first phase, and the project is on time and on budget.

Part of the company's strategy to keep labour costs down was to strike a deal with the Christian Labour Association of Canada, which has less stringent overtime rules, and is a rival to the traditional building trades unions that were protesting yesterday.

"We're not pleased at the course of action [Canadian Natural] has taken right from the start," Paul Walzack, executive director of the Alberta Building Trades Council, said in an interview before the protest. "We feel there's more than enough labour to take care of this project. And we feel they're jumping the gun drastically by sourcing labour from outside of Canada."

Canadian Natural has said as much as 30 per cent of 4,000 workers needed during peak construction next year could be foreigners, and recently signed a deal with an arm of Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Co. Ltd., which plans to bring in about 225 Chinese workers to help build Horizon. It was the first deal with a non-Canadian contractor. CNQ drilling plans hit by rising costs

Again the problem is "management" not labour. The labour shortage is a convenient fiction. As layoffs occur at Scotford and later next year at Joffery then labour becomes available for Horizon and other projects. As Waugh points out the problem is not labour shortages but lack of planning by the Klein Government. In other words the Klein Government has allowed and encouraged the conditions for cost over runs by shortchanging Albertans, cheating us of our royalties.

There's a serious break in the action in the Alberta's Tories deeply flawed oilsands strategy. They basically cut the bitumen royalty to pennies and said let 'er rip - without putting in place the necessary infrastructure or staging the projects to smooth out the boom-and-bust cycles.

Shell, of course, is the template the Alberta government should be following.

It's taking the resource from oilsands, to synthetic crude, to motor fuel to low-sulphur diesel with all the good-paying jobs staying right here in Alberta - rather than the U.S. Midwest or the Gulf Coast. Celebration Time

There is need for a long term planning for trades education. But like planning for Tar Sands development, the very idea is anathema to the Klein Tories, who take lazzie faire to mean hands off even necassary regulation for sustainable capitalist development.

The trades shortage can only be resolved by having a long term vision and plan. For instance increasing the amount of apprenticeships, which can be done directly through the union hiring halls instead of relying on employers. The AFL has already suggested this as well as tax breaks for hiring and training. The failure to provide for trades training in Alberta has been a problem for over twenty years, it is the failure of the Tory government in Alberta.

They dumbed down the trades, by creating a general high school diploma program, aimed at university qualification and for the rest of the student population there was no encouragement to take trades training or go into work related post secondary education. Which is why a university education is now equated with employability. Another reason that so called higher learning is now being proletarinized, that is students at university are attending in order to get employable skills. Something that was once the domain of NAIT and SAIT and post-secondary trades and college education. Trades enjoy renaissance among job seekers

Increasing the attractiveness of the trades to women will also solve the labour shortage problem, and it is encouraging to read headlines that this is so. But they remain part of the proletarianization of academic training, being nurses, teachers, business management, some in engineering and sciences. As in the trades where they are a minority in the traditional male trades, they remain in the pink collar ghetto, whether as teachers or as hairdressers, or as service workers; houskeeping, store clerks. Even when having post-secondary education they remain a cheap labour force, as the wages paid to day-care workers shows.

Record number of women at work [Globe and Mail]

Growth works well for women [Ottawa Sun]

So why is Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) saying it needs to import temporary construction workers from China and other countries. Because it has nothing to do with lack of labour and everything to do with union busting.

Shareholders Meeting Attracts Hundreds Of Union Protestors

CNRL is using this chimeric labour shortage to justifiy the outsourcing of labour to reduce its costs. Whether there is a labour shortage or not the company would still try and reduce its labour costs by using temporary workers, in this case foreign workers. Its all about profit not costs.

What the building trades unions have finally realized is their mis-placed campaign last year which was a xenophobic nationalist attack on temporary workers was misdirected. CNRL is the problem, not the workers they employ or not.

The Building Trades and the AFL now calls for giving these workers green cards, union rights and the potential to move here as immigrants. Something the IWW had already called for.Foreign Workers are Fellow Workers.

Find blog posts, photos, events and more off-site about:
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,, , , , , ,

No comments: