News | Quebec construction workers walk off the job

Unions conflicted over provincial construction bill

Since October 11, one of the largest construction unions in Quebec, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ)-Construction, protested a proposed bill that would end the ability of construction unions to place workers within the industry.

Labour Minister Lise Thériault presented Bill 33 at the beginning of October to the Quebec National Assembly. The document of the bill states in French that, “This proposed bill introduces a new reference system that would replace the current practice of union placement of employees within the construction industry, and proposes various measures that aim at improving the functioning of the construction industry.”

Construction workers must belong to one of the unions to work legally in Quebec.

The bill comes on the heels of a corruption report by the former head of the Montreal police, Jacques Duchesneau, which was leaked to the media in September.

Quebec construction unions are at odds over support of the bill.

Arnold Guerin, president of the FTQ, spoke in French about the report’s relation to Theriault’s bill.

“[Duchesneau]’s report did not ever speak of the union, it never spoke of the workers,” Guerin said.
The FTQ strongly opposes the bill and the proposed changes that it would have on the construction industry. The union represents 45 per cent of the construction industry and, according to Guerin, would be the worst affected union.

Guerin explained some of the FTQ’s reasons for protesting the bill. “Us in construction, we do not have security in our jobs. We don’t have job security. Others are protected, but not us,” he explained.

There were numerous unplanned walk offs at construction sites across the province in October to protest the bill, including blocking the entrance to the Montreal offices of the Construction Commission of Quebec.

Guerin stated that the walk offs were due to the inability of the unions to be heard.

Guerin added that the workers were frustrated with the proposed bill, and were “provoked.”

Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN)-Construction, another construction union in Quebec, supports the intentions of Bill 33.

Jean Pierre Laiche, a representative for the union, told The Daily that, “We believe that the placement of people is not a union task.”

“There are people who think that their work is to place people. We think that everyone should have access to work regardless to the quality of relations with those people,” he said.

“We are backing that part of the bill,” said Laiche, though he noted that, “We have a couple of problems with Bill 33.”

Some of these problems include the ability for workers to get a raise. “We think that there should be a place for a pay increase,” he explained.

Laiche also commented on the fact that the way workers voice their demands is also a problem.

“[It’s a] general strike or nothing in the construction industry – we are not allowed to do anything else legally,” he explained.

Laiche said that CSN believes that transparency is needed within the industry. “What we want is transparency of that process. We want everyone, everywhere to have access.”

Another aspect of the proposed bill is forcing construction unions to open their books to the public.
Guerin stated that the FTQ already publicizes their finances on the Internet. “We have no problem that our members can consult that. Even if it’s the law, it was already like that, but what is the interest for the public to know our financial state?”

The Daily asked Guerin whether there would be any further action to protest the bill.

“I hope not, but we don’t know,” he replied.

The FTQ and the CSN are two of the five construction unions in Quebec, with around 155,000 members. The Construction Commission of Quebec declined to comment on the bill.