06/14/2013 10:55 EDT | Updated 08/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Conciliator calls for bargaining blitz to avert construction strike

Quebec's Labour Minister Agnès Maltais says she's confident construction workers and their employers will reach a settlement before Monday, averting a provincewide strike.

Maltais said it's the responsibility of the two sides to negotiate a deal, rather than have the government impose a settlement.

"There's no more imposition by governments, it's negotiations that decide," said Maltais this morning.

A conciliator called together the two sides in the dispute to the Montreal offices of the labour ministry this morning, in an effort to get them to agree to a weekend negotiating blitz..

The meeting coincided with FTQ Construction, a union association which represents 70,000 workers, giving the ministry and employers a 48-hour strike notice. The move has been described as mainly an administrative measure.

In all 170,000 workers are affected by the dispute. Their unions have complained that talks have been stalled since the end of May, and if there's no progress, they warn walkouts will hit all major residential, industrial and roadwork sites across the province — including Montreal's English superhospital.

McGill University Hospital Centre officials have said that any labour conflict lasting a week or more would have an impact — but insist the new hospital will be finished on time.

Employers take out full-page ad

The Quebec Construction Association, which represents employers, took out a full-page newspaper ad this morning saying the ACQ respects workers and pointing out that the average hourly wage is more than $33.

It said employers have never asked for 14-hour work days, or 6-day weeks at regular wage rates.

Yves Ouellet, the executive-director of FTQ Construction, said he believes the worker’s demands are not unreasonable.

“I can tell you [the demands are] not a lot, and normally when you have an industry that is so important for the economy, you sit down and you negotiate,” said Ouellet.

The unions want a three per cent increase in the first year of a new contract followed by a 2.75 per cent increase in each of the following two years. The unions say they are waiting for a financial counter offer from the employers.

Timing a factor?

With the Quebec national assembly adjourning for the summer, the timing of the unions' strike mandate is no coincidence, according to Liberal labour critic Guy Ouellette.

Ouellette predicted yesterday that the government might have to convene a special session to pass any back-to-work legislation.

“The economy is not going too well, construction is not going too well, there's a back-up in the construction sectors, and Quebec cannot be on strike because it's gonna hurt the economy,” said Ouellette.