Photo: Jacques Nadeau Archives Le Devoir The adoption of Bill 51 would ensure that a qualified worker can do tasks “complementary to his own”.
Isabelle Porter in Quebec
February 2, 2024
The reform planned by the Legault government to accelerate the pace of construction sites reached a key stage on Thursday with the tabling of Bill 51, which aims in particular to facilitate the mobility of workers from one region to another and greatly annoys the unions.
The bill presented by the Minister of Labor, Jean Boulet, would prohibit collective agreements from having clauses “limiting the mobility of an employee”.
This measure would put an end to clauses forcing employers to hire local labor. A change that is already causing discontent in the union community. It would apply when current collective agreements expire, from May 1, 2025.
In the region, the union community fears that entrepreneurs from outside will arrive with their own teams to the detriment of local workers. « Currently , there are hundreds of workers in Gaspésie who are not working and it is said that in the greater Montreal region, there is a lack of labor,” says the director of the FTQ-Construction, Éric Boisjoly.
Retain workers instead of attracting others
Questioned on the subject, the minister underlines that there is “a significant labor deficit in several regions”. He also mentions that the construction sector is the only one in the entire economy to restrict worker mobility in this way.
The bill certainly includes a measure to please the unions, namely the possibility for workers to have access to retroactive income. However, at the FTQ as at the CSD, union leaders maintain that this is not a big gain because the feedback will have to be the subject of new negotiations, the outcome of which is unknown.
- Jean Boulet prepares for the battle of construction reform
In their view, the best way to address construction labor shortages is to “retain” workers in the field longer. The president of CSD Construction, Carl Dufour, points out that 30% of men leave the field after five years: among women, it is 50%.
The bill modernizing the construction industry also gives new powers to the Commission de la construction du Québec to have diplomas obtained outside Quebec recognized, which will affect especially temporary workers. Measures are also planned to “promote access” to construction sites for Aboriginal people, visible or ethnic minorities, immigrants and people with disabilities.
Plumbers and electricians exempt
The government is counting on these changes to meet the dire housing needs, but also to meet the anticipated demand for workers on future Hydro-Québec and battery industry sites.
To speed up the pace on construction sites, the bill proposes to “increase the versatility” of workers by allowing them to exercise several professions.
No trade will be merged with another, but a qualified worker, a roofer for example, will be able to do tasks “complementary to his own”, such as repairing a piece of plywood on the roof he is working on, for example. example.
Minister Boulet warns, however, that this is not an “open bar” and that certain specialties will not be affected, such as the trades of electrician, plumber, crane operator (except boom trucks) and elevator mechanics.
Despite these precautions, the president of CSD Construction, Carl Dufour, believes that this risks being dangerous in general trades, such as painting. “Epoxy paint, for example, has special components. It can have a chemical reaction with other products. » A concern, he says, for workers if they do not have a mask or the appropriate equipment. “And that’s just for painting! »
Before being adopted, Bill 51 must be the subject of consultations in a parliamentary committee, where the groups concerned can be heard. Asked about the possible extent of the union response, the minister said he was not worried. On the union side, leaders are weighing their options. “We have no right to go there with illegal strikes,” replied Carl Dufour, of the CSD. “I need to talk to my prosecutors to see what line we’re going to take. »
The construction industry in Quebec in figures
• 300,000 jobs
• 27,000 employers
• 25 specialties
• Average hourly rate of $45.39 per hour (in 2022)
Source: Quebec Construction Association