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OCC renews call for temporary shut down of non-essential construction

Angela Gismondi
OCC renews call for temporary shut down of non-essential construction

The Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC) has renewed its call for the Ontario government to shut down construction sites for 14 days until the situation can be improved for the health and safety of workers during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“We would like to see all truly non-essential sites — the majority of the ICI and residential sites — shut down for two weeks,” said Phil Gillies, OCC executive director on March 31. 

“We would like to see the companies, the workers and government get their heads together and put in place to use the (Ontario) Premier’s (Doug Ford) words with regards to seniors homes we would like to see an iron ring of security placed in and around construction sites so, once that’s done and everyone is satisfied with the measures in place, that the sites can reopen and people can go off to work with some confidence that their safety is intact.”   

The call was made following Ontario labour minister Monte McNaughton’s statement Ontario Stepping Up Measures to Limit the Spread of COVID-19 on Construction Sites, released March 29, which calls for better on-site sanitation, better communication on health and safety policies, enabling greater distances on jobsites and better tracking and monitoring of workers. 

The OCC, representing 10,000 members from the Carpenters and Painters unions, said this is not always happening on sites and it is difficult to monitor and enforce. 


Its not safe for more than five people to congregate together but it is OK for dozens of construction workers to go to a jobsite and be in close proximity,

Phil Gillies

Ontario Construction Consortium


“We were pleased to see the minister obviously taking this matter very seriously and laying down a framework that companies are expected to follow. We see this as a positive development but our feeling still is that a temporary shut down is needed because of the numerous reports we are hearing from jobsites about unsafe and unsanitary conditions,” said Gillies.  

He said that workers on highrise projects are reporting it is difficult to maintain physical distance when required to ride up elevators in groups and lift a heavy beam or sheets of drywall with two or three other workers. In addition, companies that service portable toilets are nowhere to be seen, leaving unsanitary conditions on site and there is often no hand sanitizer available by noon most days. 

All of these things are a great concern,” Gillies said. “We now have confirmed reports of workers and their families associated with several construction sites who have tested positive for the virus. I hate to say it but I think when you look at the conditions as they are, I fear there are going to be more people that turn up positive in the days and weeks to come.” 

A worker on highrise project on Wellesley Street East in Toronto and the spouse of a Vaughan, Ont. construction worker have tested positive, Gillies noted 

That’s why we think a good pause is needed on all but the very most essential jobsites so that the whole industry and government can look at the situation and put in place what needs to be put in place,” he said.  

There are mixed signals coming out where governments are now saying its not safe for more than five people to congregate together but it is OK for dozens of construction workers to go to a jobsite and be in close proximity to one another.  

While some are urging that construction keep going and remain an essential service, Gillies said there is not unanimity in the industry and it is a matter of competing priorities. 

Some are urging to keep going, that we have to provide the housing or commercial or institutional buildings that are under constructionWe are aware of that and we’ve weighed that but the organizations that I represent  we have come down on the side of their safety being the most important factor. If some projects have to be delayed somewhat, in order to adequately protect the health and safety of workers, then that has to be the case,” Gillies explained.


Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela. 

Recent Comments (8 comments)

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Brad Image Brad

I can’t afford rent and child support if construction shuts down. I’ll be homeless and a deadbeat dad. I need to work or raise employment insurance

Brad Image Brad

God says repent and I’ll heal your land . Pray trust in Jesus christ

Ivan Marshall Image Ivan Marshall

I live in Kingston, Ontario, near Lakeshore Blvd and was out walking for physical exercise and saw eight construction trucks. As a local contractor was working on a renovation to house that was beautiful before. There were three guys on the roof trying to integrate the old roof pitch to the new one and were less than 2 feet from one another. Real great practice of social distancing. I have a hard time swallowing that we are sending our health care professional to work every day along with all the other deemed essential workers when the construction industry is still allowed to be business as usual. This company started the job this year with I assume all the permits in place. How come the bylaw officer’s don’t pull the permits and force a shutdown? Frustrating and dismayed what a double standard and disregard for our community and society. Those fellows looked younger than me so maybe they will get the ventilator first!

Tony Image Tony

It’s sad that the government can’t stipulate “essential” and “non-essential” services more clearly. Construction sites should be temporarily shut down to decrease the spread of the Coronavirus. For 20 years I’ve been in construction, and it will never change….profits over health and safety of the workers!

Ray Image Ray

We currently employ 26. We have crews of 3 that go straight to work and then home. Crews stay together. Office is reduced and working from home.Trades work on site keep to there area if on site. We also work in cottage country with no one else around. We added additional toilets to be used by our trades only, keeping one locked for our crew only. If I contracted in the city I would agree to the shutdown on large sites as there are large amounts of employees you can not control what they do dailey. For toilets maybe we need to look at so many employees per toilet and also contractor needs to set up a better cleaning schedule with supplier. Costs get passed onto client.

Deef Image Deef

Some of us are in temporary homeless situations while waiting for these projects to be completed.
It is nearly impossible to find affordable short term housing . There is a lack of inventory.

Hoping that stricter measures will be put in place to protect Workers because they are providing an essential service.

Thank you .

Isabelle Stiers Image Isabelle Stiers

As long as restaurants remain available for drive thru people will always go out and not stay home …

Jen Image Jen

We have sold our house and we’re days away from being granted our permit to begin building. Now we can’t get our permit but have to leave this house on our closing date – we will have nowhere to go – we can’t find housing for our family and can’t afford to sign a year lease renting somewhere. I think consideration should have been given those people who have already sold their house and relied on building. We are now being left out to dry with nowhere to live with our kids.


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