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Union Discords: Challenges of Labour Mobility

Union Discords: Challenges of Labour Mobility

Information and news on the construction sectorUnion Discords: Challenges of Labour Mobility

Labour mobility in the construction industry is an ongoing issue that garners its fair share of debates. In Quebec, different measures have been taken to foster the hiring of local labour. Still, these measures are often perceived as hurdles to labour mobility for workers from one region to another. In this article, we’ll take stock of the current climate of this situation.

Union Discords Surrounding Labour Mobility

 Labour Mobility

There’s an ongoing union discord regarding labour mobility. Labour unions are adamantly opposed to it, predicting that doing so would render workers vulnerable and minimize employment benefits or perks. Negotiations between both parties are continuing, leaving workers in a precarious situation.

The Disparities Between Employers and Labour Unions

Labour mobility in the construction industry is a divisive subject between employers and labour unions.

On one side, employer associations, such as the Association de la construction du Québec (ACQ), are opposed to prioritizing regional hires, considering it a hurdle facing labour mobility, especially for workers looking to transition easily from one worksite to another. Unions are thus asking for measures fostering mobility rights, highlighting the advantages of such versatility and reinforcing companies' presence in urban and rural areas.

On the other hand, labour unions, such as the Centrale des syndicats démocratiques du Québec (CSD) and the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ—Quebec Federation of Labour), are looking to preserve labour rights in rural regions and oppose professional mobility, fearing that urban workers may replace local workers.

The Ramifications of Limited Labour Mobility

Limited labour mobility in the construction industry has numerous ramifications. Doing so creates an imbalance between regions and limits employment opportunities for those looking to move around. Furthermore, it limits the competitive factor between companies and may result in soaring construction costs. Therefore, it's imperative to find a happy medium between prioritizing regional hires and labour mobility.

Moreover, the unfavourable results of restricted mobility include, and aren’t limited to, the following:

  • dwindling versatility in workers;

  • declining productivity;

  • fewer employment opportunities;

  • soaring construction costs; and

  • quotes mandating the specific involvement of local employees.

The ramifications are mainly owed to employers, company heads, and employer unions.

Legal Challenges and Regulations

 Labour Mobility

What's Act R-20?

The Commission de la construction du Québec (CCQ) implemented Act R-20, which stipulates, among others, the labour mobility rules specific to the construction industry, detailing the commuting of construction workers from one region to another. 

Here are the key points included in said Act:

  • Union certification: Act R-20 institutes a certification process for construction industry labour unions. Unions must be certified by the CCQ to represent labourers and negotiate workplace conditions with employers.

  • Collective negotiations: Act R-20 foresees the collective negotiation between labour and employer unions. Collective agreements are negotiated to establish workplace conditions, wages, benefits, work schedules, etc.

  • Workforce management: The CCQ is responsible for workforce management in the construction industry. It awards competency cards (card C) to qualified workers, such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc., who have successfully completed testing and the related and appropriate training.

  • Professional training: Act R-20 mandates construction industry workers to complete professional training to maintain their certifications and update them when required. The CCQ offers training programs and other courses for construction industry workers and employers.

  • Regulatory provisions: Act R-20 stipulates that regulatory provisions be upheld for employers and workers breaking the law. Sanctions can be imposed, including fines, suspensions, and revoking one’s right to legally operate within the construction industry.

However, these regulations are often perceived as restrictive and preventing genuine labour mobility.

The Measures Initiated to Foster Regional Hiring

Prioritizing regional hiring is a measure that was initiated by the Superior Court in August of 2019, to stimulate the economy in different regions in Quebec. It mandates employers to prioritize hiring local labour prior to seeking non-local hires. The purpose of doing so is to lower the unemployment rate and foster regional economic growth. However, said policy does face numerous obstacles, most notably union conflicts.

Here are primary examples of such measures:

  • Regional preference clauses: Public contracts may include clauses that stipulate prioritizing hiring local workers for construction projects. This incites companies to hire regional workers within the vicinity of where the project is being carried out.

  • Training programs: Educational courses are created to further help the development of local labour in the construction industry. These programs provide specialized and adapted training to local needs, which facilitates the hiring of regional workers.

  • Financial incentives: Money-based incentives are awarded to companies hiring local workers, such as tax credits or subsidies. This incites employers to recruit regional workers.

  • Boost skill development: Educational programs in the construction industry are promoted and supported, allowing young workers to train locally while finding work opportunities within their region.

  • Employer awareness: Awareness campaigns are created to incite employers to hire local talent instead of resorting to migrant workers. These campaigns promote the benefits of regional hiring, such as lowered housing and transportation costs for labourers.

Note that these measures can vary based on governmental policies and Quebec-based regions. 

Bill 51

Bill 51 is based on seven principles intended to create equilibrium between workers and employers in a labour market that’s been in constant evolution since the 1960s. Amongst its principles, one notes retroactive pay adjustment; simplified access to alternative dispute resolution; foreign credential recognition; and affirmative action concerning the hiring of women, First Nations workers, and persons with impairments.

This proposed bill also seeks to lift labour mobility restrictions by altering hiring regulations and labour mobility in the construction industry. The growing versatility of workers is a controversial measure, one that allows employers to request a journeyperson to perform specialization-adjacent tasks, with certain exceptions for trades with potential safety risks.

Lastly, the proposed legislation’s overall goal is to lower the administrative and regulatory burdens, weighing on small-scale construction companies to manage a balanced competitive factor in the sector as a whole. 

The responses are conflicting; employers are satisfied, yet unions are worried. The concerns include the potential financial hardship facing rural regions, scaled-back worker-related qualifications due to versatility, and the necessity to negotiate pay retroactivity. This reform was implemented to address the labour shortage, yet concerns persist regarding the long-term consequences facing Quebec regions and labourers after 2030. For more information about Bill 51, check out our article on the subject matter.

Labour Mobility: Balancing Employer Interests and Employee Rights

Labour mobility in the construction industry is a complex challenge. The measures taken to incite regional hiring are often perceived as hurdles facing worker mobility. Union discords and legal challenges render the situation difficult to resolve. It’s essential to find an even keel between employer interests and adhering to worker rights. The only thing that will allow finding solutions to such complex problems is for both parties to cooperate. A crucial component of the above-mentioned equation is to guarantee workers have access to fair and just—and safe—working conditions, regardless of their work location. Labour mobility remains an important challenge facing the construction industry, and it requires an ongoing discussion to find sustainable solutions. 

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Last modified 2024-03-12

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