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2018 a year of disruption and evolution for construction

Vince Versace
2018 a year of disruption and evolution for construction

Disruption? Evolution? Either of these two words could describe the changes in the construction industry landscape in 2018.

Which word it actually is likely depends where one stakes their claim within the industry itself.

Construction has long been considered a laggard when it comes to innovation and changes to how things are built. The classic dividing lines of decades ago between general contractors and subcontractors, open shop versus union, always persist. However, the changes, angst and resolutions that come from dancing along those historic lines are ones the industry is typically used to. Then there was 2018.

This past year, across Canada, new issues came to the fore that will impact construction in the foreseeable future. The use of Community Benefits Agreements (CBA), proposed and enacted provincial lien acts, the introduction of open tendering and the legalization of marijuana impacted the industry and our readers nationwide.

The B.C. government has rolled out the use of CBAs for its projects, leaving non-unionized construction groups screaming foul.

They’ll tell you a CBA will not increase the amount of apprentices and underrepresented groups on a project and that the concept is merely a result of a provincial government cozying up to its union friends. Unionized representatives state those assertions couldn’t be further from the truth.

They state a CBA prioritizes job and training opportunities and ensures workers receive union wages and benefits for the duration of a given project.

Yes, workers on a job for 30 days, delivered through a CBA, will be covered by a union contract but that coverage cannot be used as an organizing tool, unionized leaders state.

What’s the real story?

Well, construction will have all of 2019 to begin to find out on this front.

Ontario is considered ground zero for its substantive changes to its lien act.

The first set of legislative changes in the province’s new act concerning lien modernization came into effect July 1 while its prompt payment and adjudication provisions will take effect Oct. 1, 2019.

The changes are extensive when it comes to implementing lien and holdback reforms, introducing a new prompt payment regime and a new dispute-resolution mechanism.

The issue of prompt payment was once a major dividing line between general contractors and subcontractors. However, the work by Ontario representatives of those parties, through collaboration, has resulted in a mechanism that is palatable to both.

Construction stakeholders in other provinces have taken notice with some calling for the “Ontario model” to be the one they aspire to in their jurisdiction. One thing is for sure, all Ontario stakeholders along the construction chain admit there is still a learning curve when it comes to the new act.

Another Ontario development, which occurred late in 2018, is Premier Doug Ford’s government proposing open tendering legislation on all publicly-funded construction contracts.

On one side of the argument you have unionized leaders calling the legislation an attack on ordinary construction workers and their basic rights since parts of the bill will eliminate construction bargaining rights and existing, long-standing collective agreements.

On the other side, non-unionized and open tendering advocates state the legislation is a game changer for fairness in Ontario’s construction industry, ensuring all qualified companies and workers, regardless of labour affiliation, can bid on work.

This issue hit the industry with a bang when it appeared in December and is heating up as winter sets in across Ontario.

The haze created by the federal legalization of marijuana in Canada left the industry trying to find its way to the best solutions possible when it comes to defining impairment on the job, testing and considering the possible health and safety impacts for workers.

Are the right tools in place for employers and law enforcement when it comes to dealing with this new reality? Is there an approved method of testing on the spot so employers are not caught between human rights legislation smashing up against workplace safety?

One thing is for certain, construction employers need clear and effective drug and alcohol policies in place encompassing all substances going forward.

2018 was a year quite like no other year in recent memory for the construction industry. How it forges ahead with new tools and rules in place could make 2019 a year of learning and finding balance on new ground.

Will the industry be disrupted into neutrality on the various above topics or will it evolve, forging new paths to success? We do not know yet, but our readers can rely on the Daily Commercial News (DCN) and the Journal of Commerce (JOC) to inform them along the way in 2019.

Happy New Year to all our readers, subscribers and advertisers from ConstructConnect’s DCN and JOC family.

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