New N.S. agency to settle construction industry pay disputes
Legislation would create an adjudicative body to hear matters
The Nova Scotia government is taking steps to help settle pay disputes in the construction industry sooner.
Justice Minister Brad Johns tabled amendments to the Builders' Lien Act on Tuesday that would see the creation of an arm's-length agency to adjudicate disputes between developers and contractors and/or subcontractors.
Johns told reporters during a bill briefing that there were 28,500 people working directly in the construction industry in 2021.
"These are the hands that build this province," he said. "That's why it's important that we support them."
Duncan Williams, president of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, said a lack of timely payments affects the ability of people to hire workers and grow their businesses.
"We're seeing roughly 35 companies a year that go out of business because of a lack of payment," he said in an interview at Province House.
Although legislation passed in 2019 requires contractors and subcontractors to be paid based on clear timelines, Justice Department officials said the court process to settle matters when those timelines are not met can be long and costly.
The board's makeup will be settled in regulations. Instances of non-payment would trigger the new process. A party to that process could still take the matter to court, if they want to, according to Justice Department officials.
It can take months or even longer to get through the court process. This will make things go much faster, although officials could not provide precise timelines on Tuesday. The amendments introduced would also allow for the collection of fees to cover costs associated with hearing disputes.
Williams said the problem of non-payment has grown, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, something that is reflected in surveys by his association.
"Roughly about 70 per cent of the respondents — over 200 members — have come back and said delayed payment is a real issue," he said.
The current legislation doesn't allow for financial relief unless a property under lien is sold, said Williams.
"Without that property being sold, you could have a lien sit there indefinitely," he said.
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