Quebec union denies intimidation

Quebec Federation of Labour president Michel Arsenault has appealed for calm after allegations of intimidation by a member of the union in the province's North Shore region.

Workers claim discrimination, threats by members of FTQ construction branch

Quebec Federation of Labour president Michel Arsenault appealed for calm Friday after allegations of intimidation by a member of the union in the province’s North Shore region.

There have been repeated calls for a public inquiry into allegations surrounding the province’s construction industry.

Quebec Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis ordered provincial police on Wednesday to investigate following a report by Radio-Canada in which several workers in the region claimed they had been discriminated against, intimidated and threatened by members of the construction branch of the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ).

However, Arsenault said there is no problem as far as he is concerned.

"The reality is that there is peace on the worksites — on the North Shore and elsewhere — and that workers with the FTQ-Construction … do their jobs with a great professionalism," Arsenault said in a statement.

"We have said it, and we will say it again: We do not tolerate reprehensible behaviour, and we encourage people who say they are victims to file complaints with the appropriate authorities."

Arsenault said members of his union are being unfairly targeted in what he called a "societal inquisition."

The man at the centre of the allegations — Bernard Gauthier, a representative of Local 791 of the heavy-machinery operators union in Sept-Îles — maintained his innocence on Friday.

In an interview on Montreal radio station 98.5 FM, Gauthier denied he controls the hiring on worksites on the North Shore by making threats.

He accused an opposing labour federation — the CSN — of being behind the allegations against him, calling the situation a well-orchestrated smear campaign.

Gauthier, who is known by his co-workers as "Rambo," was recorded by a foreman seemingly threatening other workers who were not members of the FTQ.

Call for change in hiring practices

Intimidation is a reality on construction sites in the province, according to Pierre Hamel, president of the Quebec Construction Association, which represents entrepreneurs in the province.

Hamel blames the current hiring system in which unions decide which workers are assigned to which construction site.

"It is a real problem for our [employers], and it’s a problem that [has existed] for too many years," said Hamel. "We should take action right now."

Hamel is calling for the creation of an independent body to oversee the assigning of workers to projects.

The co-ordinator of the construction arm of the CSN labour federation, Eric Morin, echoed Hamel’s call for an independent hiring body.

"When the union has to place the manpower … they’re in a conflict of interest," Morin told CBC News.

The Quebec Construction Commission, which oversees the respect of union agreements on construction sites in the province declined to comment on the issue.

In October, the province announced the creation of a specialized squad to oversee an investigation into allegations of collusion and corruption in the construction industry — Opération Marteau, which is French for Operation Hammer.

With files from The Canadian Press