News » Whistler

local labour

Construction This summer, like many summers in the past, a cloud of dust from hundreds of millions of dollars of construction is rising over the Whistler Valley. Like many summers in the past, a cloud of confusion regarding the number of locals employed on the multitude of construction sites popping up around the valley has started to stir. Many locals feel the construction jobs are snapped up by large crews from the Lower Mainland who may spend some of their pay cheques in town, but most of the cash ends up elsewhere. But, don't throw those tools, hard-hat and steel toed boots away, because there's lots of room for local labour on local construction sites — providing applicants have the qualifications. Although the municipal hall does not keep track of the number of locals employed at sites in Whistler, a check of the sites in the village shows a lot of Whistlerites are pouring concrete, pounding nails or digging foundations as the building of Whistler continues. A lot of the misguided hard feelings are directed toward the NDP government's Skills Development and Fair Wage Act which came into being Sept. 1, 1994. But according to Dan Cahill, regional manager with the Ministry of Skills, Training and Labour, the legislation applies only to public projects over $250,000. Because the construction going on in Whistler is all private, general contractors and sub-contractors at each site can hire whomever they like. Large construction companies like Appia Developments, Bosa Construction and Amako are all working in Whistler and Cahill says companies that large may have contracts in both the public and private sector and may operate as open shops or closed shops because of collective agreements with trade unions. Closed shops hire through a union hall and open shops accept application from any qualified tradesperson. The nearest union hiring hall is in Vancouver, so many of the union jobs are snapped up by workers in the Lower Mainland before Whistler tradespeople get a look at them. "I can't speak for private sector construction projects, but the bottom line is the hiring is governed solely by the employers," Cahill says. Phil Hawkstein is executive vice-president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, an organization of non-trade union contractors. He says dealing with open and closed shop policies is part of doing business in a profession where trade unions play a big role. "Seventy to 80 per cent of business is done on an open shop basis," says Hawkstein. "A lot of work on big contracts is done by sub-contractors who are not tied to any union hiring hall system. I think the idea that a lot of labour is not local is by and large a misconception." Hawkstein says he can't guess how many Whistler locals will be working here this summer, but he ventures "anywhere around 60 per cent" of the jobs will be filled by locals. Because employees outside the community have to be paid travel and living allowances while working outside their home communities, Hawkstein says contractors have a number of financial incentives to hire locally. Hawkstein says creating rules that would force contractors to hire locally would create many more problems than it would solve. "If Whistler builds this little wall around the valley and tries to do whatever they can to stop outside labour from coming in, what happens when Whistler's construction is done and they start to build in Hope?" he asks. "Wouldn't it be logical that Whistler's construction labour force should be shut out? Building any regional borders is foolish." John Morton, has lived in Whistler for eight years. On Tuesday he was building forms at Whistler Village Centre. He says any suggestion that locals aren't getting jobs is "just not true." Mayor Ted Nebbeling says anyone in Whistler who is qualified can walk onto any of the Whistler sites and talk to the supervisor about getting a job. "There's far more construction going on here than a lot of other communities in the province," he says. "The local work force could never claim to not be working, if they want to." He says the money created by construction jobs in the valley is staying in the valley and the misconception that jobs are taken by outsiders is unfounded. "I look out the window of my office and I see Whistler dump trucks, Whistler excavators and the sub-contractors are primarily local. Whistler is working right here," he says.

Add a comment