The North Star


Interview with Pierre Brassard

Construction reform in Québec for “friends of the party”

Read Time:4 Minute

Subscribe to our newsletter:

In March, a parliamentary commission was held on the proposed reform of Quebec's construction industry. On one side, unions representing construction workers (CSN, FTQ, CSD, SQC) denounced the bill's content. On the other, employers' and contractors' associations such as the Association de la construction du Québec are calling for even greater "flexibility" and "mobility" in the industry.

The North Star spoke with Pierre Brassard, president of CSN-Construction since 2013, to better understand these differences of opinion and the issues behind this reform.

According to him, measures to increase mobility benefit employers at the expense of workers "It favours big companies like Pomerleau, big players who practically only hire subcontractors." Right now, Bill R-20 forces these big companies to hire locally, and they can only go elsewhere to find labour if there's a shortage. This measure is of vital importance for employment in remote regions.

However, with Bill 51, employers will no longer be forced to employ local labour. "Subcontractors will bring in their labour to keep things moving." These workers are more mouldable and cheaper for these companies, since they have no job security. Because of this, "they often agree to go and work outside, to be eight, ten in the same house, and to have just enough money to be able to have lunch and dinner. It's a big no-no when you don't pay the pension dictated by the collective agreements."

He explains that government contracts worth tens of millions of dollars generally can't be done by smaller subcontractors or regional general contractors. "It's the big players in Montreal and Quebec City who take on these contracts. In any case, they're friends of the party. Pomerleau is a friend of the party. He's the one who gets the big contracts! Look who got most of the CHSLDs that the government has built over the past two or three years: Pomerleau."

For their part, employer associations are demanding even more. "We hear Houlle," referring to Guillaume Houlle of the Association de la construction du Québec, "in the media saying, 'For us, it's not enough, the mobility proposed by the Minister of Labour. We need more. What's more, we shouldn't have to pay when we bring our people out of the country, because we're supporting them.' That risks emptying regional labour pools."

Brassard also denounces the imposition on workers of greater versatility in tasks. "We're trying to find a general remedy for a particular ailment. They want everyone to be able to do anything. When you've studied for two years to learn one trade, you haven't studied to learn three trades at the same time."

In his view, this could exacerbate the labour shortage. "It's going to create dropouts. There are going to be apprentices who say, 'I didn't go to school for two years to slather on paint, or to build houses, build apartments. I didn't study to be a plasterer, and then my boss makes me do plastering. I won't want to do it. He'll force me to do it, or he'll lay me off.' This will generate false layoffs."

Photo: CSN

"After that, it's going to be hard to apply in the field. There's likely to be a lot of impact on health and safety, and there's likely to be a lot of construction defects. When you force a worker to do a task and he doesn't want to do it, there's a risk that it won't be done properly."
However, CSN-Construction would have liked to see a modernization of the law governing the construction industry. In its view, several aspects of the law would have benefited from updating. "We met several times with political attachés and the Minister of Labour. But in this industry there is a form of discrimination against certain workers or certain types of jobs."

"In the batch of occupations that are vulgarly called 'labourers', there are five types who have vocational diplomas and are not recognized as trades." However, their training follows all the regulations to be recognized as such. "For surveyors, the DEP lasts two years or 1800 hours. It's the longest DEP, and it doesn't lead to recognition as a trade."

"They don't get any recognition. These people end up leaving the industry. They go into mining, they go as land surveyors, into municipalities or, even at the limit, they go for engineering companies, because they have recognition for the work they do. Over 50% of graduates go straight into surveying and don't even go into construction. Yet there's a shortage of surveyors in the industry."

The law has changed very little over the past forty years. "We're ready to modernize it, to bring it into the 2024 era."

"If we're going to put pressure, we might as well put it on the employer as well as the unions. There's no anti-scab legislation. If we go on strike tomorrow morning, we can still go to work. What's our balance of power?"

Support journalism going against the tide ← To help North Star continue to produce stories from the majority's perspective and in the majority's interest, make a donation! Every contribution matters.