The Legault government is attacking the mobility of construction workers: Minister Jean Boulet intends to ban collective agreement clauses that prevent employees from Montreal and Quebec, for example, from going to work in the regions.
“We must remove barriers to mobility to allow more efficient and more diligent execution of projects in regions,” said Labor Minister Jean Boulet on Thursday during the presentation of his bill to modernize the construction sector. .
He wants to make illegal “clauses limiting the mobility of an employee who can be assigned anywhere in Quebec”, or which “would have the effect of restricting the freedom of an employer to hire such an employee”. In short: the clauses which protect a certain number of jobs in the regions will be deleted from collective agreements from 2025.
“The goal is to facilitate the use of workers from outside the region where projects are being carried out. The construction industry, moreover, is the only sector in the private sector where labor mobility is restricted,” explained the minister.
He believes that his approach will not cause a stir in remote regions like the North Shore, Gaspésie or Bas-Saint-Laurent for example. At another time, “there was a lot of unemployment in certain regions, whereas today we see that it is completely the opposite,” he explained. “The dynamic is totally different, there is a shortage of people,” he said.
I think it will generate human, social and economic benefits, so it should be beneficial for everyone. I am convinced, when we weigh the advantages and disadvantages, that it will be beneficial for the regions.
Jean Boulet, Minister of Labor
The minister’s goal is to make the industry more efficient and productive. He has already publicly detailed a first measure: allowing the decompartmentalization of certain professions. It is also in the bill. Once adopted, it will allow, for example, a carpenter to finish the work of a tiler, for example.
In the case of worker mobility, however, he did not indicate how he would achieve this. For the unions, it’s a “disappointment”.
“The mobility rules are like the principle of buying local,” said Inter president Michel Trépanier. He believes that this bill goes “contrary to the values of the CAQ” and deplores that the “economic development projects that are emerging” in Mauricie, Center-du-Québec and the Côte-Nord for example will no longer benefit the workers in these regions.
We ignore the guidelines to ensure local employability. They will be able to take whoever they want.
Michel Trépanier, president of Inter
Concretely, the government will ban clauses in collective agreements that require contractors to hire local workers when they win a contract in a region. And it will reduce from 1,500 to 750 the number of hours worked necessary for an employee to obtain “preferential employee” status allowing them to be assigned anywhere in Quebec. This limit is so low that almost all workers will have this status, according to Inter.
Minister Boulet also confirmed that 73% of journeymen will thus have preferential employee status, and half of them will have “full mobility” since they will have worked more than 15,000 hours during their career.
“Large companies like Pomerleau or EBC without naming them when they go to a region they know little about, they will take everyone,” lamented Mr. Trépanier.
He expects an “emotional” reaction in the region.
The five construction unions were already on guard and all opposed this change. At the end of January, they were already on a war footing. “I have a terrible fear. They will kill the regions. The vast majority of the work is between Montreal and Quebec. What will happen if the companies go to the region with their workforce? That’s scary. I hope that people will mobilize,” lamented Carl Dufour, president of the Centrale des syndicatsdemocratiques (CSD) Construction, in an interview with The Press.
The complete abolition of the rules on mobility was part of the employers’ demands. The Quebec Construction Association (ACQ) is calling for the pure and simple abolition of construction regions, however it says it is satisfied with the withdrawal of clauses in collective agreements.
The organization’s public affairs manager, Guillaume Houle, gave the example of a Quebec entrepreneur who would win a contract in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean. Current rules prevent it from having a team made up of 100% workers residing in the National Capital. “He will be forced to hire employees he does not know and train them on the job, whereas a cohesive work team is more effective,” he lamented.
In return, Minister Boulet includes in his bill the right to negotiate a retroactive collective agreement, which was prohibited in the construction sector. It was a union request. “Mainly made up of contributions from employers, this fund aims to allow the Commission de la construction du Québec to pay a retroactive salary adjustment, when terms provided for in collective agreements provide for such an adjustment,” we read in the law.
The bill also proposes “various regulatory modifications aimed at promoting access to the construction industry for people representative of the diversity of Quebec society, such as indigenous people, people who are part of a visible or ethnic minority, immigrants as well as people with disabilities”.
To attract workers from abroad, Minister Boulet also wants to give power to the Quebec Construction Commission “to determine standards as well as a procedure for recognizing training and diplomas issued outside Quebec.”