Quebec and Ontario battle over construction workers

Quebec and Ontario battle over construction workers

CBC Toronto – Fev-09-2002

TORONTO – In Quebec, there is anger over new legislation in Ontario that will impose strict sanctions against Quebec construction workers. On Thursday, Ontario announced strict regulations that severely limit the chances of Quebec construction workers getting jobs in Ontario. The move comes in retaliation against Quebec for rules and restrictions that make it difficult for Ontario workers to get certified to work in Quebec. Some unions say the explanation is simple: Quebec’s training standards are higher. Under the Fairness Is A Two-Way Street Act, Quebec firms will no longer be able to bid on building public projects, such as schools and hospitals.

An official with a plumbers’ union in Quebec calls the legislation severe and unfair and warns that workers there aren’t going to tolerate it.

Non-unionized construction workers in Quebec don’t like it either. Jocelyn Dumais, president of the Right to Work Association, representing non-unionized workers in Quebec, says thousands of cross-border workers will be hit.

« It’s going to hurt very, very much, because this time around I think this government has not only [the] intention to enforce the law, but they have the means to do so, » says Dumais. « They are organized now, which they were not back in 1999. I believe they have accumulated enough information now to find out where and who is on the Ontario side working. »

In 1999 Ontario threatened similar sanctions, but withdrew them after Quebec made concessions. Ontario Premier Mike Harris says negotiations will continue, but he says if no deal is reached, the government will start enforcing the law in three weeks. « We allow full mobility of companies and workers to come into Ontario and to bid on our jobs and to work here, and Quebec does not, » Harris told reporters. « They’ve got a gazillion excuses. Fair is fair. »

But Quebec Labour Minister Jean Rochon said Ontario is jeopardizing ongoing talks by announcing that Quebec construction companies and workers will face new restrictions.

« We cannot negotiate under that kind of a threat, » Rochon said Friday. « It’s just inadmissible. We cannot do that. »

But the Harris government insists that Quebec’s labour regulations unfairly hamper Ontario workers. Rochon said he wants to keep negotiating, but said the talks can’t resume if Ontario erects barriers along its borders next month. He won’t say if the Parti Québécois plans to retaliate with new restrictions of its own.

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