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Labour shortage seen as major issue as bargaining season looms

Don Wall
Labour shortage seen as major issue as bargaining season looms

 

This is the second article in a continuing series exploring the open season in Ontario ICI collective bargaining launching March 1. Read part 1 here.

Wages will be the number one issue when Ontario’s 25 ICI construction trade unions and their corresponding employer bargaining agencies sit down to hammer out collective agreements in the coming weeks and months.

But it’s predicted that newer points of contention such a cannabis-influenced fitness for work and chronic worker shortages will command significant attention at the negotiating tables this time around as well.

So says Construction Employers Coordinating Council of Ontario (CECCO) executive director Wayne Peterson, who was asked to preview the upcoming open season of bargaining in the ICI sector that begins by law March 1 and is bookended by the expiry of previous three-year collective agreements April 30. The rules are prescribed by the Labour Relations Act.

Peterson said the negotiating season got off to a slow start compared with the last season in 2016, when there was at least one collective bargaining agreement (CBA) reached before Jan. 1. There have been subcommittee and regional meetings so far but full-blown bargaining sessions in the 25 sectors are expected to get underway in earnest in February, he said.

“I don’t anticipate any work stoppages,” said Peterson. “There is a concern because of the manpower restrictions and the amount of work that is out there where the increases will settle.

“There’s a lot of work and very little labour supply. And it depends, in labour and management hierarchy, they understand the issues and concerns that in two years there might be very little work, and you may be putting yourself out of business with high wages. They understand that but in a lot of cases the rank and file are not in tune with that.”

CECCO, the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS) and the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario all play roles ranging from active co-ordination of strategies to making themselves available for consultation as the open season approaches and during negotiations.

CECCO currently represents 21 of the 25 unions, with the steeplejacks, insulators, millwrights and sprinkler fitters currently opting out of the voluntary organization.

The OCS was founded in 1993 to support both ICI unions and the employers, and co-ordinates a bargaining resource toolkit that is available to negotiators on both sides.

With the open season approaching, OCS director of research Katherine Jacobs has attended employer events such as a CECCO-organized Pre-Bargaining Seminar held Nov. 8 and a special session of the Demolition Labourers Employer Bargaining Agency held Jan. 15 that included a briefing of the bargaining team that will represent demolition contractors.

“We talk about economic conditions, the GDP, metropolitan forecasts from the Conference Board, major CMAs (census metropolitan areas), forecasts for the next three years, inflation, Statistics Canada data and outlooks, wage settlements in the last round of bargaining, also wage settlements by industry, investment trends in ICI going back to 2010 and upcoming major projects,” said Jacobs, outlining research from the OCS toolkit that the unions and the employer agencies ask about.

She also noted BuildForce supplies valuable market and workforce information.

“It’s non-partisan,” said Jacobs. “Trade unions and contractors are equal partners with us so we don’t take one side or the other. The information is provided for both to use.”

The OCS’s current economic outlook, providing a backdrop for the negotiations, is that the ICI sector will continue showing vigour for some time. There should be increased growth across the province, more so in Toronto and southwestern Ontario, Jacobs said, while the north is softer.

“The ICI sector still has some strength, we expect it to grow for a couple of years,” said Jacobs.

Both the OCS and CECCO stay on top of negotiations as the weeks pass, with both groups preparing Excel-style reports available to their constituents offering updates on CBAs including wages, benefits and other language as negotiators report in. Jacobs said the OCS, as an impartial facilitator, undertakes the reports for information purposes while Peterson said CECCO has partisan interests such as ensuring the early settlements are not excessive and thus setting precedents.

“You don’t want someone going off,” he said.

“Using wages as an example, some trades are doing very well, with good market share, while others have poor market share. What normally happens, you see a trendsetter in negotiations, if someone settles for a high wage package before the others settle, that sets the bar for what the other trades are looking for.”

While worker mobility across the province and cannabis and fitness for work are likely to be included in the language of a number of the CBAs, Peterson said, the workforce issue — recruiting, pressure on wages, training — will no doubt be dominant.

“Some have no problem,” he said. “The elevators just put out a call for new people and they had 1,200 apply. Sheet metal and electrical, they have people waiting to get into an apprenticeship.

“But tile and terrazzo, they are struggling to find people.”

There is no umbrella trade union organization that co-ordinates negotiating strategy sector-wide as closely as CECCO does but the Building Trades Council may play a co-ordinating role pursuant to its constitution and bylaws if any affiliates request assistance, a spokesperson indicated.

Recent Comments (1 comments)

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This is in regards to the article “Labour shortage seen as major issues as bargaining season looms,” the quote “But tile and terrazzo, they are struggling to find people” is incorrect. We, Marble Tile and Terrazzo Local 31 have a significant amount of members that are in the ICI sector that are on an unemployed list due to lack of work in the industry, we are in fact turning away apprentices due to that reason alone. The business Manager Jack Barbosa is curious to know where Mr. Peterson got his information from.

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