The National Assembly passed loi 142 in the early morning Tuesday, legislating 175,000 Quebecers back to work and ending the province’s week-old construction strike.
The bill establishes a 1.8 per cent wage increase, short of what construction workers had hoped to settle on through the negotiation process. The Quebec Labour Minister justified the measures on the basis of economic and social costs incurred on the province by allowing the strike to continue: “L’impact économique il est majeur, mais l’impact social, il l’est tout autant,” said Dominique Vien. “Il va falloir casser ça, cette histoire-là.”
The unions have affirmed that they will be contesting the constitutionality of loi 142, which passed 72 votes for and 21 against after a marathon debate which began Monday afternoon. While a right to strike was not traditionally a part of freedom of association under s. 2(d) of the Charter, a Supreme Court majority in 2015 changed that.
In Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, Justice Abella found that the “right to strike is not merely derivative of collective bargaining, it is an indispensable component of that right. Where good faith negotiations break down, the ability to engage in the collective withdrawal of services is a necessary component of the process through which workers can continue to participate meaningfully in the pursuit of their collective workplace goals.”
In that case, the legality of the curtailment of freedom to associate turned on the question of “whether the means chosen by the government are minimally impairing, that is, carefully tailored so that rights are impaired no more than necessary.”
In addition to legally obligating the construction industry back to work, the bill establishes an October 30 deadline for the parties to reach an agreement on working conditions. Failing that, the minister of labour will be empowered to set the terms of a mandatory arbitration process.
When talks failed over the weekend, the employer had actually put a more generous offer on the table; L’Association des professionnels de la construction et de l’habitation du Québec (APCHQ), which represents 17,000 private enterprises, had offered a 1.9 per cent increase.
The 175,000 workers involved in the dispute are represented by l’Alliance syndicale, an umbrella for Quebec’s five construction unions: la FTQ-Construction, le Conseil provincial du Québec des métiers de la construction – International, le Syndicat québécois de la construction, la CSD-Construction and la CSN-Construction.
Loi 142 does not take effect until Wednesday and unions are planning to continue striking today.
This blog post was written by a CCLA summer student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA.