09/12/2011 04:34 EDT | Updated 11/12/2011 05:12 EST

Quebec government cracks down on construction unions, curtails powers

MONTREAL - Quebec's construction industry, which has been at the centre of numerous controversies, will see the clout of its powerful unions curtailed in new legislation planned for this fall.

"Our government has embarked on real change in the construction industry that will mark the start of a new era in labour relations," Labour Minister Lise Theriault said in a statement.

One of the key proposals would end the current practice where unions can say how many and which workers get assigned to a particular construction site.

Under the proposed law, the unions could make recommendations to a government licensing commission, which would then make the decision.

Failure to follow that system would result in severe penalties.

Other recommendations refer to union membership and the composition of the provincial construction commission.

The province's construction industry has been hit with numerous reports of impropriety — including fraud, links to organized crime and illicit behaviour by union officials.

Yves Ouellet, director of the construction wing of the Quebec Federation of Labour, said the measures are "like using a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito." He pointed out that the large unions have input in the hiring of about 15 per cent of the workforce on construction sites.

"Most employers hire their own workers," he said.

But Louis Roy, of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, questioned that and said the new rules will make for a "more agreeable and free atmosphere."

Pierre Dion, manager of the provincial contractors' association, said the government's measures will help improve the industry's image as well as help builders.

"It will allow us to recover management rights that have eroded over the decades," he said.

The new law will be based on 57 recommendations from a government commission that looked into the industry during the summer.

The construction industry has been a thorn in Premier Jean Charest's side since allegations arose about corruption and organized crime involvement in the industry last year.

The Oppostion Parti Quebecois was able to briefly score politicial points by insisting Charest call a public inquiry into the industry similar to one that took place in the 1970s.

Charest resisted the calls and instead implemented stronger oversight and set up new provincial police squads to fight corruption.

Theriault, who described herself as "satisfied" with the committee's recommendations, noted that about $46 billion was invested in the construction industry in 2010.

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