MONTREAL - Construction workers walked off the job at numerous sites across Quebec as a dispute between the Quebec government and construction unions quickly escalated Monday.

The workers are protesting proposed legislation that would prevent unions from dictating which employees are allowed to work on job sites.

But Labour Minister Lise Theriault said the Liberal government won't back down from Bill 33, which would allow contractors to choose their own workers.

Under the legislation, the Commission de la Construction du Quebec would create a list of eligible employees that would not need to belong to a union.

Labour minister threatened

Bill 33 was introduced one month ago in the National Assembly and goes into Parliamentary hearings this week.

Theriault said the law may be controversial, but that she won't back down, even if people have threatened to "break both my legs."

Theriault was referring to an an anonymous phone call her office received on the weekend.

"I won't give up," Theriault said.

"Am I worried about my safety? Honestly, no. Threats and intimidation have the opposite effect for me: I will not give up. We will abolish union placement."

The minister's personal security detail was increased after the threat.

"Until now, I have never really been threatened. However, on the weekend my office received a phone call with a very clear threat," said Theriault. "Security is in the process of analyzing the threat."

She hopes that Bill 33 will be adopted by December.

Two weeks ago, FTQ workers held demonstrations in front of the Commission de la Construction du Quebec offices in Montreal, and plastered stickers over the windows of the Quebec offices of the provincial agency.

On Monday, about 150 construction workers returned, and several of the building's windows were smashed.

On Friday, employees at construction sites in Saguenay, the Outaouais and the North Shore also held strikes.

Quebec's Conseil du patronat is speaking out against the move with full page ads in a daily newspaper, saying that walking off the job in this manner is an unlawful action that does not benefit anyone. 

Quebec Federation of Labour says it is not involved

Construction workers walked off the job at many locations Monday, including the Viau Bridge, the CHUM and the MUHC superhospitals, and the Dix/30 mall on the South Shore. Strikes were also held at sites in Sherbrooke and Quebec City.

Despite the widespread nature of the strikes, the construction workers claim they are taking part in a spontaneous job action that is neither organized nor sanctioned by their union leaders.

Michel Arsenault, the president of the FTQ, said he took no role in the job action.

"I just came back from Europe and I spent the weekend with a miserable head cold," said Arsenault, who was visibly ill. "If there are charges to the contrary we will defend ourselves in court, as always."

Charles Chebl, site supervisor at the MUHC superhospital site, says SNC Lavalin does not have a backup plan if the construction crews do not return to work.

"It's very difficult actually. It's a big project, the biggest in Quebec. We have 560 workers," said Chebl.

"If these measures last more than a week it could be very difficult for us."

Projet Montreal introduces anti-corruption motion

Meanwhile, at Montreal city hall, the number two opposition party, Projet Montreal, introduced a motion that would put now restrictions on how city construction contracts are given out to companies.

Projet Montreal want to make sure any company suspected of corruption, collusion or any sort of influence pedaling won't be able to win a city contract.

If a company that wins a bid is accused of corruption or has a questionable reputation, the city would have the right to shut down the project for six months to a year.

The City of Montreal dismissed the proposal as unrealistic, against the central legal tenet of innocent until proven guilty, and an attempt to capitalize on the controversy surrounding the construction industry.

With files from The Canadian Press

This story has been updated since it originally appeared.