Montreal

Back-to-work law leaves Quebec construction workers feeling 'disrespected'

Construction workers at work sites across Quebec will picket for a final day today before the Quebec government's newly passed back-to-work legislation comes into effect, ending their nearly week-long strike.

Bill passes 76-21 in early hours Tuesday, putting an end to labour dispute

Ironworker Mathew Fortin isn't happy with the legislation that forced construction workers back on the job. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Construction workers at work sites across Quebec will picket for a final day today before the Quebec government's newly passed back-to-work legislation comes into effect, ending their nearly week-long strike.

Union leaders have said they will challenge the law, which was passed early this morning, in court. The workers are to be back at their job sites starting tomorrow.

The final vote tally was 76 to 21 in favour, with the Liberals and Coalition Avenir Québec voting for the law and the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire voting against it.

The unions claim the law was written in a way that ensures the employers have the best chance to get what they want if the two sides go to arbitration. The reaction from employers to the law was mixed.

Ironworker John T. McComber said it appears the government believes he and other workers like him are expendable, and he feels "disrespected."

He said he isn't sure if the strike made a difference.

"No matter how much manpower we got to show we're against it, the government is going to do what they want anyways. The owners must have better lobbyists than we do."

He said he believes most people will obey the back-to-work order because they want to be working.

Ironworker Mathew Fortin said he believes the return to work tomorrow morning will be frustrating.

"[A strike] maybe costs money to the government and everyone who is connected to construction, but it's our only way to pass a message," he said, adding that the government "took that voice away" from workers.

Daniel Boyer, president of the Quebec Federation of Labour, one of the most powerful union federations in Quebec, said their members were told to obey the law, but many aren't happy about it.

Striking Quebec construction workers have one more day of protest ahead of them before they are forced back to work Wednesday, thanks to legislation that passed early Tuesday morning. (Radio-Canada)

He said he believes the government should have let the two sides negotiate instead of intervening.

"The significant economic impact [the strike] has on Quebec forces the parties to negotiate faster and find solutions faster. Now we have the opposite effect, employer associations were sitting around and waiting for the law to pass," he said.

Important to end strike, says labour minister

Labour Minister Dominique Vien said in a statement it was important to put an end to the strike, which was costing the Quebec economy $45 million per day.

Yves Thomas Dorval, president of Quebec employers' council, said Quebecers are "taken hostage" by the negotiations every four years.

Quebec Labour Minister Dominique Vien said it was important to put an end to the strike, which was costing the Quebec economy $45 million per day. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)
Unions and employers should work together and find a win-win situation, he said, but because of the impact a construction strike has on the economy, the government has to step in quickly to keep it from dragging on.

He said while he understands that in a perfect world, everyone would see their salaries increase, in the real world, a deal has to work for both parties.

"You cannot paralyze all the economy, just because you don't want to make any concessions," he said.

The legislation maintains current working conditions for the province's 175,000 construction workers and grants them a pay raise of 1.8 per cent. They had been asking for a 2.6 per cent raise; the employers were offering 1.6 per cent.

The law also triggers an immediate five-month mediation period to allow labour unions and construction companies to hammer out a new collective agreement, after which they will be required to enter into binding arbitration.

The Liberals didn't accept any amendments proposed by the opposition parties.

The strike, which began last Wednesday, was the second such walkout in the Quebec construction industry in four years.

It brought to a halt work on major projects such as the Champlain Bridge replacement and the new French-language superhospital, which has already been subject to delays. 

With files from Jay Turnbull, CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press

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