06/25/2013 11:38 EDT | Updated 08/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Quebec Liberal leader wants immediate end to construction strike

Provincial Liberal leader Philippe Couillard wants the Parti Québécois government to act now to end the construction strike that has paralyzed work sites across the province for more than eight days.

The Marois government appointed a mediator yesterday to facilitate talks between the union alliance and the employers’ representatives.

Projects across the province ground to a standstill after more than 175,000 workers walked off the job on June 17. Their demands include salary increases and adequate compensation for overtime hours.

Couillard said the government should have appointed a mediator to oversee the situation days ago.

“The government is not only two weeks late, but it’s $2 billion late” he said Tuesday.

“We have to remember the construction strike costs us, costs our economy and our families, roughly $1 billion a week. So it’s a significant impact on the economy… The strike should be over by now.”

Couillard told the CBC's Daybreak his party recommended a special mediator be appointed on June 18 and be given until June 21 at midnight to reach a settlement. At that point, he said, if there was no agreement, special legislation ending the strike should have been implemented.

He said that legislation could be drafted so that workers go back to work while allowing negotiations to continue. He suggested that would have been a good way to “get out of this problem.”

Premier Pauline Marois said earlier this week that she is willing, although reluctant, to invoke back-to-work legislation in the labour dispute.

"I think that it is possible to have a solution in the next days," Marois said on Monday afternoon.

But if no progress is made by next week, the premier said she will reluctantly invoke back-to-work legislation.

A tentative agreement in the civil engineering and roadwork sector meant 40,000 workers on major road and infrastructure projects were to return to work Tuesday.

Couillard said it’s good news that an agreement-in-principle was reached with the road workers, however, he pointed out, they only represent a fraction of construction workers off the job.

According to Couillard, “the majority of the jobs and investments" are in other sectors where there’s still no agreement.