Construction sites in Quebec are idle after more than 175,000 workers across the province went on strike. 

A general strike began at midnight after unions and the association that represents construction employers were unable to reach an agreement over the weekend.

Though both employers and unions say they are anxious to get back to work. However today, all major projects in the province are paralyzed, including roadwork, residential construction and large developments like Montreal’s super hospital.

Provincial government says no plans for back-to-work law

The Quebec Minister of Labour, Agnès Maltais, recommends both parties return to negotiations, saying the government does not plan to implement special back-to-work legislation.

There hasn't been a general construction strike in the province since 1986.

"Twenty years ago it was settled by negotiation. It’s by negotiation that this must be resolved," said Maltais.

Unions say demands are reasonable

The unions walked away from negotiations Saturday, saying their main concern was employers attempting to reduce the amount of pay workers would receive for overtime hours.

"The offers we have received from them show a complete lack of respect for workers, they don't reflect the quality of our industry, the quality of our workers," union spokesman Yves Ouellet said in a news conference. "We find this dishonest."

The unions say their demands primarily concern scheduling, salary and overtime compensation.

They are seeking a three per cent wage hike in the first year of a contract, followed by a 2.75 per cent hike in the following two years.

Yves-Thomas Dorval, president of the province's employers council, says the unions are making unrealistic demands.  

"Nobody can give an increase of three per cent when the economy will increase less than two per cent. It doesn’t make sense," said Dorval.

Ouellet says it's a question of paying people what they're worth. He says the unions had already made concessions.

"The Quebec construction workers are among the best in the world, the most productive in the world," Ouellet said. "There's no question of cutting acquired rights."

Employers say unions bargained in bad faith

Lyne Marcoux, the chief negotiator for employers, said Saturday that unions negotiated through the media and intended for workers to strike.

Eric Cherbaka, director general of Quebec's residential homebuilders' association, also criticized the unions' attitude, saying they bargained in bad faith and never intended to reach a deal.

"The union alliance leaves the table and once again prefers to use pressure tactics at the expense of negotiating," he said in a statement on Saturday after talks broke down.

Employers say the strike — and the delays it will cause — will have a huge impact on the economy since it affects residential building, as well as commercial and industrial sites.

Major projects affected by the strike:

  • $8.5-billion La Romaine hydro-electric project on Quebec's North Shore
  • $2.1-billion Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal
  • $1.6-billion McGill University Health Centre superhospital
  • $995-million Sainte-Justine hospital in Montreal
  • $760-million "Bassins du Havre" housing development in Montreal
  • $400-million Quebec City arena
  • $350-million "Cité Verte" housing development in Quebec City
  • $300-million "Faubourg Contrecoeur" housing development in Montreal
With files from The Canadian Press