Quebec construction strike: Back-to-work law now a possibility

QUEBEC – The Quebec government is now open to imposing a back-to-work law during Quebec’s first construction strike in over a quarter-century.

Premier Pauline Marois appears to be hardening her government’s position.

Her labour minister had ruled out a special law and said the dispute would be settled by negotiation alone. That was two days ago. Now the premier says she’s prepared to take what she calls more drastic measures if there’s no deal within two weeks.

Marois says a special law is not her preferred option, however.

About 175,000 workers in the residential, industrial and commercial sector laid down their tools Monday for the strike after negotiations broke off with the builders’ alliance.

Civil engineering and road work are affected. So are Quebec City’s pro-hockey arena project, two Montreal super-hospitals, the $8.5-billion La Romaine hydro-electric facility on Quebec’s North Shore, and several multimillion-dollar housing developments in Montreal and Quebec City.

Sticking points in the dispute are wages and working conditions, such as overtime pay.

The union says it wants a three-per-cent wage increase in the first year, and that the builders’ alliance has offered one per cent.

Labour Minister Agnes Maltais, who had seemed to rule out a special law on Monday, is working to get negotiations moving.

She has convened the four builders’ associations and the five construction unions to a meeting in Quebec City on Thursday.

The province’s last construction strike was in 1986.