01/16/2015 06:13 EST | Updated 03/18/2015 05:59 EDT

Steel company bats down foreign workers complaint at Edmonton arena construction

EDMONTON - A construction company says only six of 60 labourers at the site for Edmonton's new downtown arena are temporary foreign workers.

Ed Cote of ALCO Steel Erectors says it would take a year to properly train local workers to use the equipment from his company's U.S. partner.

Cote says the American company has designed its own fall protection systems and structures to hold up the arena’s roof until it can stand on its own.

Labour and union leaders are unhappy that foreign workers are being used when local labour is available for the $480-million project.

Dozens of protesters took to the streets in Edmonton on Thursday to complain.

Cote says local iron workers at the site will benefit from learning how to use the equipment for any future jobs.

“They (U.S. partner) want to make sure that we have at least six of their very experienced guys with these systems present on the job site," he said. "We thought that was very smart, because we’ve never used their systems and this is all about protecting life."

He suggests the whole issue is one of sour grapes because the iron workers union wasn't the one chosen to represent workers.

“The Local 720 is really bitter that they weren’t the trade union chosen to represent our guys."

Cote said there many members of the union local are working on projects that are part of the arena development.

The Rogers Place arena is to become the new home of the NHL Edmonton Oilers in 2016.