Com­pet­i­tive bid­ding on con­struc­tion work re­stored

Changes to the Labour Re­la­tions Act would re­verse re­gion’s con­struc­tion-em­ployer des­ig­na­tion

The Woolwich Observer - - NEWS - VERON­ICA REINER

THE PROVINCE’S PRO­POSED CHANGES to its Labour Re­la­tions Act could ad­dress a long­stand­ing sore spot in Water­loo Re­gion, which was deemed a “con­struc­tion em­ployer,” ham­per­ing its abil­ity to seek ten­ders for pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture work.

Last week, Min­is­ter of Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Todd Smith an­nounced plans to amend the law such that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties could no longer be deemed con­struc­tion em­ploy­ers. In the re­gion, that would undo a 2012 in­ci­dent in which two of its em­ploy­ees opted to join the United Brother­hood of Car­pen­ters and Join­ers, forc­ing the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to con­tract only with com­pa­nies reg­is­ter with that union.

Un­der Bill 66, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, school boards, uni­ver­si­ties and sim­i­lar pub­lic en­ti­ties would be clas­si­fied as “non-con­struc­tion em­ploy­ers.” That would al­low non-union­ized con­trac­tors to bid on projects ten­dered by those or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“It’s a fair­ness is­sue of tax­pay­ers’, mak­ing sure lo­cal tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars go fur­ther,” said Ian McLean, CEO of Greater KW Cham­ber of Com­merce, which has been lob­by­ing for the changes. “Lo­cal com­pa­nies shouldn’t be ex­cluded from bid­ding on lo­cal projects. We have mem­bers that are union­ized and non-union­ized, and we just want a level play­ing field for every­body.”

Along with praise from Kitch­ener-Con­estoga MPP Mike Har­ris, the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion won ku­dos from re­gional chair Karen Red­man and for­mer MPP Michael Har­ris, now a re­gional coun­cil­lor, who had fought to re­verse the con­struc­tion em­ployer des­ig­na­tion while in op­po­si­tion.

The changes would be a boon to the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, said McLean.

“If you’re a con­trac­tor and you can do the work, you should just be al­lowed to bid on it,” said McLean. “The best price, the best qual­ity, the best abil­ity to do the job should be the de­ter­min­ing fac­tors – not whether you have a spe­cific agree­ment with one union. It also gives the choice to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and school boards to pick the con­trac­tor that best fits them whether it’s a union shop or a non-union shop.”

The num­ber of bids on a par­tic­u­lar in­fra­struc­ture pro­ject would in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly, should this bill be passed, sup­port­ers main­tain. How­ever, the amend­ments have been met with some mixed re­ac­tions, par­tic­u­larly from con­struc­tion and union groups. On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of Labour pres­i­dent Chris Buck­ley was vo­cal about his op­po­si­tion.

“Union­ized con­struc­tion trades are leaders in health and safety,” said Buck­ley in a re­leased state­ment. “By open­ing pub­lic con­struc­tion projects to non-union shops, Ford is putting worker safety at greater risk and tram­pling col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ments. By re­duc­ing safety stan­dards to sat­isfy big busi­ness, the govern­ment is play­ing with the lives of On­tar­i­ans.”

The main ar­gu­ment among op­pos­ing groups is that the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion could pose a risk to worker health and safety.

“This bill is go­ing to do noth­ing but re­place red tape with yel­low cau­tion tape,” said Buck­ley. “The OFL is not op­posed to re­duc­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive reg­u­la­tions. But many of the reg­u­la­tions cur­rently on the books are there to serve a use­ful pur­pose, from en­sur­ing work­ers know their rights to safe­guard­ing their health at work.”

The new leg­is­la­tion is just one of 32 pro­posed amend­ments to the Restor- ing On­tario’s Com­pet­i­tive­ness Act, which aims to stim­u­late busi­ness in­vest­ment, cre­ate de­cent jobs, and make On­tario more com­pet­i­tive by cut­ting un­nec­es­sary reg­u­la­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment.

While the bill is not yet law, the Cham­ber of Com­merce is ask­ing the Ford govern­ment to place it high on the leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity list to be ready for the 2019 spring and sum­mer con­struc­tion sea­son.

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