Construction negotiations resume as Couillard threatens back-to-work legislation
Published Thursday, May 25, 2017 12:27PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 26, 2017 7:14AM EDT
Negotiations resumed Thursday evening as 175,000 of Quebec’s construction workers are on strike, while the premier of Quebec is threatening to bring in back-to-work legislation if the strike doesn’t end promptly.
The two sides returned to negotiations at 8 p.m. Thursday as a fourth conciliator joined the discussion.
While speaking in Israel on Thursday, Premier Philippe Couillard said both sides had until Monday before the legislation would be tabled.
"I have asked that the government take measures to be ready to act Monday," he said following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He did not want to say whether he will call back the legislature on Monday or whether the process would begin that day for the law to be tabled Tuesday.
"We won't allow the economy to be bled $45 million a day," he said, referring to the estimated daily cost to the Quebec economy.
Union officials had a meeting with Labour Minister Dominique Vien in Quebec City, giving her a schedule of new meetings.
"The minister had asked us to provide her with a schedule and a game plan for the negotiations, that's what we did," Michel Trepanier, a spokesman for the union alliance, said in an interview.
Thousands of construction workers took to the streets on Thursday to protest the lack of progress in negotiations: the Union Alliance has been without a contract since April 30, 2017.
Construction workers said they are fighting for family time. They don't want to be forced to work on weekends if rain forces the closure of a worksite during the week or if they call in sick.
They also don't want to see their hours changed to begin at 5 a.m. instead of the current 6:30 a.m. or have to work extra hours and weekends in cases they’re behind schedule.
“If you come home at 8 p.m., what are you going to do?” said one worker. “Your kids are already asleep. Then you leave the next day at 5 a.m. No one does that.”
Another worker said many people don't realize though they earn between $22 and $40 per hour, it’s backbreaking work, and it’s unstable.
"Some of my friends don't understand what I'm going through. They think I'm a spoiled brat because I have such a big salary, but my salary, I don't have it the whole year. I work maybe six, seven months a year, and some years only four," said one worker.
The demonstration in Quebec City was joined by government engineers.
Those 1,500 employees have been on strike for several weeks and they joined Thursday's protest at the National Assembly.
Ann Gingras of the CSN said she hopes that a contract can be negotiated fairly without being imposed by politicians.
"I hope the government doesn't go there. They did that under Pauline Marois the last time. I hope that they learned from that. Nobody wins from an imposed bargaining agreement," said Gingras, referring to the last strike four years ago.
"We just have to push the employers to sit down at the bargaining table and to negotiate, and to negotiate in good faith."
Some of the striking workers marched with their children to make a point.
“To turn their work schedules upside down, for the people it's unacceptable. It makes a lot of insecurity in their working conditions and in their family life,” said Gingras.
“The obligation to work on a Saturday, that's a fight our grandfathers fought in the 60s, and now we're not yet there,” said construction worker Benoit Plante.
“What they're asking right now is a step back, a real big step back. We're looking at years behind us where we're going back to work on the weekend without having any choice basically,” added construction worker Louis Auger.
The two sides are not that far apart on most issues. Talks broke down late Tuesday night over the issue of salaries, with unions saying most employees earn about $35,000 per year, and companies saying it's currently closer to $50,000.
Meanwhile Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says his patience has almost reached an end.
Many projects are currently underway in the city, and some have looming deadlines, such as the work to repave and revamp the area around Papineau Ave. and René Levesque Blvd.
That's the site of the Formula E races that will take place the final weekend in July, and Coderre is confident it will be finished on time.
"My level of patience is low too. I said that yesterday I said the same. So we'll let the process go but there is a major economic impact and social impact to it and we cannot wait too long," said Coderre.
Planned work on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge this weekend is cancelled due to the strike.
With files from The Canadian Press