Some Cowichan Tribes workers will be back at the work site of the new $1.4-billion Cowichan District Hospital by the end of the week.
In a statement, the Khowutzun Development Corporation, the economic development arm of Cowichan Tribes, said it has negotiated a sub-contract with one of the contractors at the work site to provide trucking services for a three-month period, with a possible extension.
As required, this sub-contract was submitted to BC Infrastructure Benefits and the Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council for approval and a positive response has been received, according to the statement.
“This is a step in the right direction towards economic reconciliation and acknowledges that systems excluding Indigenous participation are no longer acceptable,” said Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum.
“The Cowichan District Hospital replacement project is one of the largest projects to be undertaken in our territory and Cowichan businesses have the capacity to contribute to its success. We look forward to a more inclusive process going forward.”
Work was halted at the hospital’s construction site on Bell McKinnon Road for 11 days in December after contracting companies that fall under the banner of the KDC, which had been clearing the site and hauling gravel for some time, set up a protest line at the entrance.
The companies and their workers were protesting the fact that the BC Infrastructure Benefits, the provincial Crown corporation that provides the qualified skilled trades workforce for the construction of public infrastructure projects, refused KDC a permit to continue to work at the site because none of its companies and workers are members of unions accepted by the corporation.
After negotiations, Minister of Health Adrian Dix stated in the legislature on Feb. 8 that Cowichan Tribe companies will be allowed to work at the hospital site, but it is only now that any KDC companies have won a contract for work there since then.
Jodee Dick, CEO of KDC, said Cowichan Tribes suggested the approach that will finally see KDC and its workers at the hospital site again in October, but it was ignored, and then rejected.
“These months of negotiations could have been months where our skilled employees were working on this project had our initial proposal been accepted,” she said.
“Our truck drivers are looking forward to being on the Cowichan District Hospital construction site later this week to start this short-term subcontract. We are also working hard to secure some civil and earth works.”