MONTREAL – Quebec’s bustling construction sites were expected to be silent on Monday following the declaration of a general strike by construction unions who are rejecting what they say are attempts to roll back working conditions.
Thousands of sites across the province were expected to be affected as picket lines were to go up after midnight.
Negotiations between unions representing more than 175,000 workers in the residential, industrial and commercial construction sector and associations representing builders broke down on Saturday.
Civil engineering and roads sectors are reportedly still negotiating.
Despite urging by the provincial government to try to reach a deal, union representatives said Sunday they have had enough.
Yves Ouellet, a spokesman for the construction unions, said builders had met their most recent demands with silence.
“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,” Ouellet told a news conference. “We find this dishonest.”
The strike follows accusations from both the construction union and the builders’ associations of bargaining in bad faith.
Lyne Marcoux, the chief negotiator for the provincial construction association, said Saturday that the union was negotiating through the media and intended to send workers into the streets.
Eric Cherbaka, director general of Quebec’s residential homebuilders’ association, also criticized the union’s attitude.
“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.
The construction association repeated its criticisms as it reacted to the strike announcement on Sunday. It insisted in a statement that it had continually showed respect during bargaining and had attempted to improve working conditions.
Ouellet called on workers Sunday to reject calls by employers to show up for work regardless and asked construction crews to respect Quebec’s first construction strike since the 1980s. He said it is an exercise of their rights.
He denied suggestions the unions had been greedy in the face of concessions requested to boost productivity and because of tough economic times.
“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.”
The union spokesman said it’s a question of paying people what they’re worth. The unions had already made concessions and the offer from builders asked for more, he insisted.
“The strike will be a hit but why should everything be put on the backs of the workers?”
He said monetary offers had been for a one-per-cent increase with no retroactive pay. The union is seeking a three-per-cent increase in the first year and 2.75 per cent in the next two years of the contract.
One of the main contentions was an apparent attempt by the Quebec construction association to change the amount of overtime workers would get for extra hours worked, reducing it from double time to time-and-a-half.
The union has also said they were being asked to agree to a 14-hour day and six-day work week at regular wages although the construction association says it never made this demand.