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Labour minister tries to revamp construction hiring

by The Concordian October 11, 2011
Quebec’s Labour Minister Lise Thériault has proposed a law to fight against the abuse and intimidation construction workers, but construction unions are opposing it.
Bill 33, which was introduced to the National Assembly Oct. 6, will take away the unions’ power to decide the number of workers assigned to construction projects, and which of their members go to each project. Instead, unions will have to hand their decisions to the Quebec Construction Commission.
“The law has not been changed in decades,” said Thériault the day of the bill’s introduction. “What we’re proposing will mark a new era in labour relations in the construction industry.”
The plan is part of a larger cleanup in Quebec construction, Thériault said, pointing to ongoing accusations of collusion and corruption in the industry.
The minister chaired a closed-door working group that produced a report last September on the construction industry. Quoting the report’s findings, she said unions’ assigning of workers reflects negatively on the industry’s image and that workers’ and employers’ rights were infringed upon during the hiring process.
Construction unions were quick to oppose the proposed laws. Two groups that represent the majority of construction workers in the province, the Conseil provincial de la construction and the construction division of Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, have already launched an advertising campaign against the legislation, calling Thériault’s report “partisan and discriminatory” and biased towards employers over their workers. They claimed the law would be expensive and complicated.
Yves Ouellet, director-general of FTQ-Construction, said he’d prefer that the province launch a public inquiry into allegations of corruption and collusion in the construction industry rather than mount a diversion. “Instead of talking about the real problems in the industry, they’ve decided to mount a fake issue to distract the population,” he reiterated.
He added that the province failed to impose labour laws already in place. Talking about the initial report, he said that “in the beginning, it was supposed to come to the aid of workers, but in the end, we’re saying it doesn’t help them at all. On the contrary, it’s going to make things worse for them. It’s an attack.”
Speaking from Barcelona last Friday on a business trip, Premier Jean Charest urged the unions to “accept democracy” and to not do anything illegal in protest of the proposed legislation. The province, he said, would “never allow itself to be intimidated.”
Thériault said the next day that her security has been not been increased since the announcement. QMI Agency reported that Laurent Lessard received death threats when he investigated similar issues as labour minister in the construction industry six years ago; in response, police posted 24-hour surveillance outside his house.
The national assembly will be holding hearings on the bill.

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