Boulet Reform | Freeing construction from the chains of the past

The Quebec construction industry is an important economic vector. In 2022, it will have approximately 27,000 employers and 300,000 workers distributed across the following four sectors: institutional and commercial, industrial, civil engineering and roads, and finally residential.

Working conditions are provided for in four collective agreements, one for each of the aforementioned industrial sectors. These agreements are the result of negotiations between five unions and four employer associations. The table being set in this way, everything can subsequently become complex.

The current labor relations regime in the construction industry arose just after the massive Expo 1967 construction project in Montreal. At the time, unionization was done by site. Acrimonious union struggles occurred between unions from the CSN and the FTQ with a view to collectively representing workers, with each central wanting its largest share of the pie.

From this ground was born, in 1968, Bill 290 which imposed sectoral collective bargaining and introduced a closed union workshop formula. Every construction worker now had to be unionized.

The management of this industry, which had suddenly become nationalized, was entrusted to an organization with a joint vocation now known as the Commission de la construction du Québec.

From then on, employers had to refer to union agents to recruit their workforce. This union placement was abolished by the government of Jean Charest in 2011. It was the subject of fierce inter-union struggles. In this regard, let us recall the ransacking of the James Bay construction site on March 21, 1974. A union representative of the FTQ, driving a heavy vehicle, heavily damaged the workplace in order to prevent the Société de la Baie from -James to hire unionized workers at the CSN. This northern construction site then found itself without heating in winter. As a result, around 10,000 workers had to be urgently evacuated south. Quebecers thus became aware that something was not going well in the realm of construction.

Commission Cliche

The construction industry was then marked by a problem which haunted it throughout its evolution, namely, to a certain extent, employer corruption and the union “mafia”. This situation was clearly revealed by the Cliche commission in 1974 and, subsequently, by the Charbonneau commission in 2011. This notably demonstrated that corruption extended to the municipal political arena, especially in the Montreal region. The Charbonneau commission stopped at the front door of the Quebec government.

Essentially, Bill 51 by Minister Jean Boulet intends to facilitate mobility between trades and regions in a context of labor shortage. The bill also proposes to facilitate the entry of women, indigenous people, the disabled, immigrants and visible minorities into the construction industry. It also creates a provincial labor relations committee with a view to pacifying social dialogue. Finally, it accentuates the already omnipresent role of the Commission de la construction du Québec.

The construction industry is private. But it is centralized and controlled by a Commission which has more than 1,200 officials. Seen in this way, it is probably the most centralized and technocratized private industry in the Western world.

Shouldn’t we decentralize the operation of the Quebec construction industry as is the case in most countries in the world by guaranteeing workers quality working conditions through national negotiation? The current regime of labor relations in the construction industry comes from solutions that were applied to conflict situations observed in the 1960s. However, we are at the time of the artificial intelligence revolution.

Certainly, we must relaunch the labor relations system in the construction industry towards a bright future. It’s not about people’s skills, it’s about their integration system. We must therefore draw inspiration from existing systems that work well in other countries without forgetting other Canadian provinces. The Quebec construction industry deserves a boost likely to improve its performance and the pride in working there, especially among young Quebecers. Chained, she must be unleashed. Taking into account the patient’s condition, Minister Jean Boulet’s therapy risks being insufficient.


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