Chantier Politique

June 1, 2017

English Edition, No. 15

Back-to-Work Legislation Imposed on Construction Workers

All Out to Defend the Rights and Dignity of Construction Workers!


Construction workers demonstrate outside the National Assembly on May 29

Back-to-Work Legislation Imposed on Construction Workers
All Out to Defend the Rights and Dignity of Construction Workers!

For your information
Law Criminalizes Quebec Construction Workers' Strike

Construction Workers' Demands Are Just!
The Government Must Respect Those Demands!



Back-to-Work Legislation Imposed on Construction Workers

All Out to Defend the Rights and Dignity of Construction Workers!

In the early morning hours of May 30, the Quebec government adopted Bill 142, An Act to ensure the resumption of work in the construction industry and the settlement of disputes for the renewal of the collective agreements. The legislation criminalizes the just struggles of construction workers who had been on strike as of May 24, in defence of their rights. This is the sum total of the respect neo-liberal governments have towards workers who build the infrastructure, the schools, the homes and the commercial and industrial buildings. This is the second time in four years that the Quebec government has criminalized their just struggle. The Parti Québécois government resorted to such legislation in 2013.

Chantier politique vehemently denounces this most recent back-to-work legislation, which is one more in a long list of laws and specific measures which are most arbitrary and discriminatory against construction workers. This law deems workers guilty of "intimidation" whenever they defend their rights, makes wage increases non-retroactive, denies all employment security, excludes measures contained in the Act respecting occupational health and safety, and gives employers the opportunity to use scabs on the worksites.

Construction workers have taken up this round of collective bargaining with all the dignity and the fighting spirit that befits workers whose immense contribution to building Quebec must be met with a claim on the value they produce that they deem suitable in the form of wages, benefits and retirement conditions. Their demands are for stability in their work shifts and for strict rules with regard to their work hours and overtime wages. A large number of construction workers are young parents for whom extended and variable work schedules make it extremely difficult to accomplish the most basic of daily chores such as taking care of their children. They want to negotiate these conditions without being criminalized.

The thoroughly corrupt Liberal government, which acts in the service of the construction, mining and steel industry oligarchs, among others, does not recognize the dignity of construction workers nor that of labour in general. The legislation also serves to impose silence on the real working conditions of construction workers. This government claims to be upset about the fact that the construction sector represents 12 per cent of Quebec's GDP and that a strike in this sector represents millions in losses for the economy. The government and monopoly media only get upset and spout out numbers when it comes to attacking construction workers and denying them even the right to negotiate their conditions. But when workers are killed or injured on construction sites or get fired under any pretext, given that they have no employment security whatsoever, where are the government and media to even raise these problems?

This time around the Couillard government is planning to permanently render illegal the construction workers' struggle for their rights and to have a say and a control over their working conditions, as it did for municipal workers.

Premier Couillard said, "We must put an end to this process, which is unfortunately repeated time and again, whereby finally none of the parties seems interested or has a genuine will to strike a deal and therefore wait on the government to intervene in a conflict which is private.''

The Labour Minister Dominique Vien stated that the government wants to end "this attitude of waiting for back-to-work legislation with the expectation that what they desire will come through the bill."

This attack and the threat to permanently outlaw workers' right to defend their rights must not pass! The workers of Quebec and of Canada must denounce this criminalization of construction workers and make their voices heard to defend them. It is an attack against all workers. We must speak out forcefully and state that workers will not accept a situation whereby the producers of society's wealth cannot exercise their rights and whereby there is no equilibrium in the relations of production.

No to the criminalization of the construction workers' just struggle! All out in defence of the rights and dignity of construction workers!

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For your information

Law Criminalizes Quebec
Construction Workers' Strike

Bill 142, An Act to ensure the resumption of work in the construction industry and the settlement of disputes for the renewal of the collective agreements, was adopted on May 30 by Philippe Couillard's Liberal government. It puts an end to the six-day strike of some 175,000 construction workers in defence of their rights. In 2013, the Parti Québecois government also ended a construction strike with back-to-work legislation.

Bill 142 orders construction workers to go back to work as of May 31 or face penalties for each day or part of a day that the law is not respected: individual workers face fines of $100-$500; for a leader, employee or representative of a union $7,000-$35,000; and $25,000-$125,000 for unions. Bill 142 prohibits workers from any stoppage, slowdown, reduction or degradation of their normal activities.

The bill extends the working conditions contained in the construction workers' collective agreement on the day of its expiry, April 30, 2017. It imposes a wage increase of 1.8 per cent until a new collective agreement is reached. This increase is well below that demanded by the workers and the employers' offer at the bargaining table, according to the union. When the Labour Minister was asked by the media why the imposed wage increase is less than that proposed by the employer associations, she recognized that it was an added provocation against the workers, saying, "We have always upheld that neither side would come out a winner with the emergency legislation.''

Bill 142 stipulates that "negotiations" are to take place in the presence of a mediator, appointed by the Minister, for each of the sectors. Mediation must end by October 30, 2017 and can be interrupted at any time at the joint request of the parties in a given sector or if a tentative agreement is reached. If there is no agreement by the end of the mediation period, the mediator submits a report to the parties as well as the Minister specifying the matters on which there has been agreement as well as each party's position with respect to the matters which are still in dispute.

The Minister will then determine which outstanding matters will be referred to arbitration, the applicable mode of arbitration -- by an individual arbitrator or a council -- and chooses the arbitrator or the chair of the council. According to the unions, two days before the back-to-work legislation was tabled, the Quebec Construction Association once again brought to the negotiating table its unacceptable demand to impose irregular work schedules and work on Saturday without overtime in the institutional-commercial and industrial sectors, that it had previously withdrawn. This matter will now surely end up in arbitration.

The Minister may determine the arbitration method (best final offer method as assessed clause by clause or globally) as well as the criteria that the arbitrator or council of arbitration must examine to form the basis of the arbitrator's or council's decision, such as recognized "clients' ability to pay, the conditions of employment and evolution of wage rates among comparable groups of positions in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, the maintenance of construction industry workers' purchasing power, and the balance between work organization flexibility and the constraints occasioned by flex time.'' The unacceptable demand of employers' organizations to destabilize work schedules even more becomes a criterion for arbitration.

The arbitrator or council of arbitration must render a decision no later than April 30, 2018. The decision is binding on the parties until April 30, 2021.


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Construction Workers' Demands Are Just!
The Government Must Respect Those Demands!


Workers hold Solemn Memorial outside National Assembly on
National Day of Mourning, April 28, 2017

In 2016, the number of work-related deaths in Quebec continued to climb to 217, from an already unacceptable 196 for the prior year (Canada-wide there were 852 deaths in 2015). Within the construction industry alone, despite the fact that the number of hours actually worked had dropped, the number of accidental deaths recorded doubled in one year, increasing from 10 to 20, or close to two accidental deaths per month. This figure does not take into account the number of deaths registered as a result of occupational diseases.

Quebec workers have repeatedly challenged successive governments who have even refused to apply the Act Respecting Occupational Health And Safety, 1979, in particular with regard to the presence of safety representatives nominated and trained by workers at worksites. Today it is estimated that only 10 percent of workers are provided access to all the provisions of the Act that was passed nearly 40 years ago.



Chart depicting sharp increase in work-related
deaths between 2014 and 2016

With respect to the construction industry, years ago the unions presented a concrete proposal on how representatives in prevention could intervene and demonstrated how health and safety performance improve when they do. Governments have turned a deaf ear to this because the health and safety of workers is seen as a cost to businesses and governments. In addition, everything is done to silence the voice of the workers on construction sites and at the workplace in general. Those who produce society's wealth are expected to produce it when they are permitted to and then vanish from the face of the earth if they get injured, treated merely as collateral damage without any relevance. This is unacceptable and workers are determined to change this state of affairs.

On April 28, on the occasion of the National Day of Mourning to commemorate all those killed or injured on the job, workers gathered outside the National Assembly to say that the time for speeches of condolence is over and that that they hold governments and companies accountable for what happens at the workplace. They also demanded concrete action from those in positions of power, whether in government, at the workplace or within the economy.


Solemn Memorial outside National Assembly, April 28, 2017



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