Plan to bring in South Korean workers for NextStar battery plant sparks backlash

The NextStar EV battery plant in Windsor, Ont., is shown under construction in the summer of 2023. ( Patrick Morrell/CBC - image credit)
The NextStar EV battery plant in Windsor, Ont., is shown under construction in the summer of 2023. ( Patrick Morrell/CBC - image credit)

Workers from South Korea will be coming to work on Windsor's NextStar EV battery factory, sparking backlash from politicians who say the jobs should go to Canadians because of the massive taxpayer subsidies the companies 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.

When asked for comment, the company said in a statement that it was "fully committed" to hiring more than 2,500 Canadians and 2,300 local tradespeople for the construction and equipment installation.

"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," said NextStar CEO Danis Lee in a statement.

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."

On Friday, MPP Lisa Gretzky (NDP-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."

More to come.