Legislation forces construction workers back to jobs Wednesday
Published Monday, May 29, 2017 7:22AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 30, 2017 7:29PM EDT
Quebec's striking construction workers will be forced back to work Wednesday due to special new legislation passed in the National Assembly very early Tuesday morning.
Bill 142 was adopted in a 76-21 vote just before 4 a.m. According to the new law, construction workers must return to work on Wednesday under the terms of their old contract but with a 1.8 per cent pay increase. The legislation put a halt to the battle over wages and employers' demands for weekend overtime.
Workers who continue to strike will face fines and possible jail time.
Michel Trepanier, a spokesperson for the Construction Trade Union Alliance, said the pay raise is too low. The unions had been asking for a raise of 2.6 per cent per year.
The bill also requires unions and the construction company associations to negotiate collective agreements by Oct. 30, 2017.
If negotiations with the help of mediators do not succeed, binding arbitration will begin after that date.
The bill passed with the support of the ruling Liberals and Coalition Avenir Quebec but was opposed by MNAs from the Parti Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire.
Premier Philippe Couillard said the government did what it had to do.
“Because a government governs,” he said.
“For us it was not a perfect bill, but it was enough to vote for that bill.,” said CAQ House Leader Francois Bonnardel, who said his party agreed the estimated $45 million it cost the Quebec economy daily was too much to continue. “We cannot manage and imagine that we can have a strike that will be longer than the four, five days that we have seen.”
Construction union leaders said they would challenge the law as unconstitutional but members of the Quebec Construction Association, a group representing construction firms, denounced the "gifts" given to the workers.
A final offer presented by the construction companies included a 1.9 per cent wage increase over four years and several concessions including a four-day-work week.
It was rejected Sunday afternoon by the union executives.
The parties will have five more months for mediation. If no agreement is reached by the end of October, it will go to arbitration.
Unions are displeased, saying they're prepared to fight it in court because it will give the arbitrator too much power.
“This is probably illegal in terms of recent court decisions of the Supreme Court and it's clearly arbitrary,” said Jean-Francois Lisee, explaining why the PQ voted against the bill. “Theoretically, they could just sweep away the request of the unions for conciliation of family and work. They could decide to tell the arbitrator, ‘No don't even look at that.’”
Four years ago the Marois government imposed back-to-work legislation on construction workers following a ten-day strike. Earlier this year Quebec used this kind of legislation to order striking notaries and lawyers back to work.
- With files from The Canadian Press