Quebec construction industry continues almost as normal despite curfew and restrictions
A construction workers wears a face mask in Montreal, Saturday, November 14, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
MONTREAL -- Despite a curfew and increased restrictions, work for the Quebec construction industry has not slowed down.
The Francois Legault government asked the sector to reduce its activities "to the minimum necessary to ensure the fulfillment of commitments" and to adjust work shift "to limit presence on construction sites."
This openness to the "fulfillment of commitments" means, in fact, that all the projects in progress have remained active.
Canadian Press audits of the three major construction associations in Quebec indicate that they have maintained the pace set before the curfew.
"Everything that is in progress is considered essential," said Guillaume Houle, spokesperson for the Association de la construction du Québec (ACQ), which represents entrepreneurs in the institutional, commercial and industrial fields.
DELIVERING ON HOME CONSTRUCTION
Respecting commitments is essential in the housing sector, argued Francois Bernier, vice-president of the APCHQ (Association des professionnels de la construction et de l'habitation du Quebec).
"We have all these sites to deliver over the next few months," he said, noting that there were 20,000 sites to be delivered on in the first half of 2021.
"Obviously, if there was a delay, it leads to the problem of leaving people in the street," said Bernier. "The idea of respecting the commitments is also to respect these people who are there and who are waiting for their units in the very short term and we do not have much leeway if we do not meet our deadlines."
PENALTIES AND "COVID-19 CLAUSES"
Houle said that the contractual agreements include penalties for late deliveries.
"Several contracts put on hold in the spring (during the first wave of COVID-19) are currently paying the price in court proceedings," he said adding that several new contracts now contain "COVID clauses," which ensure that "the client, whether public or private, is relieved of the responsibility and delivery delays due to COVID and the additional sanitary measures that need to be set up. The whole burden is on the entrepreneurs."
The roads and major works construction organization (ACRGTQ), is only marginally concerned.
"The level of activity of the people we represent was already at its lowest. At this time of the year, COVID not COVID, we are at a minimum," explained spokesperson Christian Croteau, who pointed out certain exceptions, such as the REM sites which continue to operate.
COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO ESSENTIAL WORK
The decision to make new commitments by Feb. 8, when the curfew is lifted, hinges on two unusual variables: judgment and procurement.
"What the premier and what the decree tells us is to use our common sense to determine the essential nature of the work," explained Houle.
Bernier emphasized that there is no real problem in making a commitment, for example, for the construction of a house in September.
The restriction in the face of new commitments is aimed at the immediate future.
"At this point in time, to reduce the intensity on the sites, to reduce the number of sites, should we follow up on a request today? Your new bathroom, can we make it a little later?" he said adding that it is more difficult than usual to make new commitments.
"Some have no choice but to refuse new requests because the year begins with a serious difficulty in supplying all kinds of materials: wood, windows," said Bernier. "The production line, although it resumed operations within the year, is having problems. Try today to go see someone in the window industry to make you a contract. He'll tell you yes, but wait a few months."
REDUCTION IN OUTBREAKS
The government's decision to maintain the sector's activity unhindered is explained, among other things, by data from the National Institute of Public Health (INSPQ) on outbreaks and the number of active cases on the construction sites as of Jan. 2. , the most recent week for which data is available.
Thirty-three outbreaks were reported on construction sites, or 4.5 per cent of the total outbreaks in all workplaces (excluding hospitals, CHSLDs, schools and daycare services).
The number of confirmed cases stood at 134 people, or 3.7 per cent of the total.
This is a significant decrease from previous weeks when there were up to 60 outbreaks and nearly 200 workers infected.
In the week of Dec. 19, the construction sector accounted for 8.6 per cent of outbreaks and 5.8 per cent of infected workers.
This decrease is explained by the fact that the government put construction on hiatus for two weeks during the holidays.
Owners are keenly aware, however, that a marked increase in cases and outbreaks with the recovery could cause the government to change its mind and all spokespersons insisted on tightening sanitary measures noting that no one is perfect in managing sanitary measures including the construction industry.
"On the other hand, we took charge, we have a guide with very strict sanitary measures to be observed on construction sites and we reminded our members last week that these measures must be applied as strictly as possible," said Houle.
-- this report by the Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2021.