Montreal

Porta-potties flushed on Quebec construction sites

After an epic 12-year struggle, the Quebec government has approved a new rule that means construction workers on sites with more than 25 workers will no longer be forced to use chemical "porta-potties" when nature calls.

Construction workers in Quebec lobbied for 12 years to get heated toilets with running water

Chemical toilets on the construction site of the new French-language superhospital in downtown Montreal. (Steve Rukavina)

After an epic 12-year struggle, the Quebec government has approved a new rule that means construction workers on sites with more than 25 workers will no longer be forced to use chemical "porta-potties" when nature calls.

Those sites will now be required to install heated washrooms with running water.

Yves Ouellet, director-general of the Quebec Labour Federation (FTQ) construction wing, said the union first requested the rule change in 2003. 

'In construction, nobody cared'

"Everywhere we say to people 'You have to wash your hands to stop the spread of contagious diseases.' It's bizarre because in construction, nobody cared," Ouellet said.

Ouellet said Quebec is the last jurisdiction in North America to adopt such a rule for construction sites. He said employers resisted the idea and fought it at every turn because of the cost.

For us, it's not a question of money, it's a question of respect.It means we'll be treated like humans.- Yves Ouellet, director-general, FTQ-Construction

"For us, it's not a question of money, it's a question of respect.  It means we'll be treated like humans," Ouellet said.

Ouellet said the new washrooms will be in heated trailers equipped with water tanks and sinks.

Cold, smelly, dirty

He said workers will not miss the plastic blue porta-potties that are fixture on large construction sites in Quebec.

"Let's say you're in the middle of winter. It's -40 outside. It's cold. It smells bad. It's dirty," Ouellet said.

"Many workers would just wait until they go back home to use the washroom, because they don't like to go there." 

Ouellet said now workers will be able to use the washroom in comfort and wash their hands before eating lunch.

The change will happen gradually.

Over the next six months sites with more than 100 workers will have to replace their porta-potties. Gradually, sites with 50 and then 25 or more workers will follow suit.

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