RC105 MarApr2023 - Magazine - Page 4
VOLUME 21 NUMBER 2
KEEPING THE PEACE
ART DIRECTOR AND SENIOR DESIGNER
Mark Cardwell, Simon J. Fenn,
Terry Johnson, George Koch,
Peter Miasek, Glenn Miller,
by John Tenpenny
WHEN LARGE INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS are completed, inevitably, ribbon-cutting ceremonies are
held where politicians and project owners are feted for their accomplishments in seeing
the project across the finish line.
But they aren’t the ones digging the foundation, erecting steel structures, or pouring
the concrete. Hospitals, roads, bridges, and subways are built by the labour of construction workers.
The relationship between workers and project owners is complicated and often
fraught with conflict, resulting in labour disputes and strikes, causing delays in the
building of important public infrastructure.
Blame can be laid at the feet of both parties, but better labour relations benefit
That’s why a recent agreement between a project owner and local building and
construction trades unions is reason for optimism.
The newly signed project labour agreement (PLA) between The Ottawa Hospital
and the Unionized Building and Construction Trades of Eastern Ontario and Western
Quebec is an attempt to eliminate risk for work delays and disruptions caused by
strikes or lockouts during construction of The Ottawa Hospital’s new campus. A request for proposals to build the hospital was issued on Nov. 29, 2022, by Infrastructure
According to both parties, the agreement—lasting for the duration of the project—
sets out the terms and conditions that will apply to all employers and all trades working on the project. It sets a high safety standard for working conditions for all building
and trades workers on the site, increasing safety and job stability, while still following
Ontario’s requirements for an open and competitive procurement process.
At first glance, this agreement seems to be a perfect solution to prevent costly labour
disputes from delaying projects, but upon closer inspection, there are some unanswered questions.
Will working exclusively with one group of trades make the project more expensive?
The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) has called on the Competition Bureau to investigate, saying the project labour agreement is restrictive and isn’t
fair to taxpayers.
“There’s something seriously wrong when thousands of Ottawa-area construction
workers and local companies have no chance to build one of the largest infrastructure
projects in the city’s history,” said Karen Renkema, vice president of Ontario at PCA.
“This is a deal that shuts out local talent and does not provide good public value. That
warrants an investigation.”
A report by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI), estimates this labour arrangement will escalate project costs by anywhere from $168 million to $525 million by 2028.
The MEI concludes “it is unacceptable for a public entity to make taxpayers pay
more by granting exclusivity to only a certain group of affiliated workers.”
While project labour agreements are a step in the right direction for strengthening
relations between labour and project owners, they are not a panacea for ending labour
strife and may unnecessarily result in pushing costs higher.
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