Yukon construction site centre of dispute over outside workers and COVID-19

·3 min read

There could be a stand-off at a Whitehorse construction site this week over the issue of outside workers.

A contractor building a downtown mixed-use apartment building for the Challenge Disability Resource Group plans to bring in workers from Manitoba.

Under a Yukon government program the workers will self-isolate while they're on the job. Rob Babcock, who works as a site supervisor for a Whitehorse electrical sub-contractor at the Challenge building, said he's sceptical the outside workers and local crews will be able to completely avoid each other on the project.

"You know, from my perspective, I just don't see how having people on site with us accounts as self isolation," Babcock said.

"It goes against everything that we've been doing and I don't know how it's fair if I were to leave the territory to come back. I would have to self isolate, not work for 14 days."

The outside workers are coming from Manitoba, a COVID-19 hotspot, he said, and he wonders who will enforce their self-isolation on the job and during their off hours.

He said other contractors have told him they won't stay on the site if the Manitobans show up.

"I myself have told my boss that I will probably do the same, and I imagine most of my guys will also follow me on that, you know, the risk is too much," Babcock said.

The executive director of Challenge, Jillian Hardie, said she's confident the self-isolation plan can protect the workers.

"We're all responsible during this pandemic for ourselves. So with these crews that are coming in on the alternative self-isolation plan, they are responsible to maintain this plan," Hardie said.

She said they will not be working in the same areas of the building and will have their own lunchroom and washroom.

The out-of-town workers will wear armbands to identify themselves, she said.

Hardie said the local sub-contractors also have the right to work elsewhere for the two week self-isolation period.

The contractor, Edmonton-based Johnston Builders, asked the Yukon government for permission to use the alternative self-isolation plan at the site and it was approved by Community Services Minister John Streicker, she said.

Chris Windeyer/CBC
Chris Windeyer/CBC

Streicker was questioned by Yukon NDP leader MLA Kate White about that decision in the legislature Thursday.

"Can the minister explain why he would allow a company to bring in workers from Manitoba with the highest Covid[-19] rate per capita in the country to fly into Whitehorse to work on a construction project?" White asked.

Streicker said there have been about 400 applications in Yukon so far this year for the alternative self-isolation plan, but not all have been approved.

"They can apply for an alternative self-isolation, indicating that they self-isolate, but they can do so on the job site if they prove and can carry that out in such a way as to keep it safe and separate," Streicker said.

The government gets an opinion from the chief medical officer of health before the plans are approved, he added.