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Ontario Power Generation turns to Texas

By Christina Blizzard, Special to the Sun

Pickering power plant. (TORONTO SUN FILES)

Pickering power plant. (TORONTO SUN FILES)

TORONTO - 

Ontario Power Generation has contracted out health and safety checks on thousands of contractors and sub-contractors to a company in Texas.

Contractors who’ve been working for OPG for decades have been asked to shell out hundreds - and in some cases thousands - of dollars to ISNetworks in Texas and asked to produce detailed paperwork in order to continue to work for the province’s publicly-owned electricity generating utility.

Contractors contacted by the Toronto Sun say they’ve been asked to pay between $800 to $3,000 to register with ISNetworks.

When they’ve declined, they’ve been cut off from OPG contracts.

“It’s like our Ministry of Labour isn’t good enough for these people,” said one contractor.

The new process is particularly hard on small and medium-sized companies who can’t afford a full-time employee to work on the onerous paperwork ISNetwork demands they fill out.

“You need someone here in the office full-time, not only getting the program set up so they’ll accept us as a member of their group, but you have to have someone here full-time just administering the paperwork they want you to process,” said one source.

“You’re hiring people to administer paperwork that we’re already doing through the Ministry of Labour,” said the source, who didn’t want to be named for fear of being blackballed by the industry.

“It isn’t the actual dollar value, it’s the time factor.”

Another contractor was asked to pay $800 to the Dallas-based ISNetworks.

They both raise concerns that the costs involved in registering with ISNetworks mean that small tradespeople - plumbers, electricians, carpenters and the like - will be cut out of future contracts in favour of multinational corporations.

And they question why this work has to be sent out-of-country when the provincial labour ministry already has strict health and safety requirements for companies.

According to its website, ISN is a “global resource for connecting hiring clients with safe and reliable contractors.”

Except many of these contractors have been working for OPG for decades with no problem - and are now not getting any contracts from them.

A spokesman for OPG said the move to ISNetworks is part of a “business transformation” that’s seen OPG downsize by 2,000 staff, or 16% of the work force.

“OPG selected ISN to effectively manage contractor/supplier health and safety, environment, and quality (HSEQ) prequalification requirements,” said Neal Kelly in an e-mail.

“ISN carefully and consistently reviews HSEQ programs, WSIB, insurance, and procurement-related information from prospective contractors for compliance with legislative requirements, OPG contract standards, and industry best practice. The program details required by ISN are no different than those that have been required for a number of years.

“ISN provides subject matter expertise in these areas for a nominal annual subscription fee.”

He said ISN is a multinational company with Canadian offices.

“They have a thorough understanding of Canadian regulations and best practices associated with various types of work - roofing, electrical, sheet metal, civil, etc. Their process is very well established in other provinces,” he said.

ISN’s Canadian office is in Calgary.

OPG was the subject of a scathing report by auditor general Bonnie Lysyk in December. She found the bloated utility had boosted the number of execs at VP rank and above from 54 to 94 over seven years and handed out cushy perks.

While OPG has reduced overall staffing by 8.5% since 2005, senior management ranks have ballooned 60% during the same time.

As well, the number of OPG employees making $50,000 a year in overtime has doubled — to 520 from 260 — in the past decade.

As a result of that report, OPG fired three executives - and paid them a total of $3.4 million in severance.

A spokesman for ISN says they provide services for many Canadian companies.

“ISN collects and reviews health and safety, procurement, quality and regulatory information from more than 54,000 subscribing contractors across 70 different countries,” said Kim Ritchie, ISN’s Canadian director.

“ISN’s mission is to improve the efficiency, compliance and safety performance of ISN’s hiring clients and subscribing contractors.

Ritchie said contractors that subscribe receive online training and exposure to more than 360 hiring clients.

“In addition, ISNetworld allows subscribing contractors to streamline and reduce duplicative administrative work required when bidding or pre-qualifying to work with ISN hiring clients,” she said by email.

Annual subscription prices are based on the number of employees of each subscribing contractor, Ritchie said.

Toronto Hydro is also a customer according to their website.

Seems to me fat-cat OPG is “streamlining,” at the expense of people who can least afford it - small tradespeople, contractors and sub-contractors who are just looking to do a job and put bread on the table.


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