06/20/2013 11:23 EDT | Updated 08/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Striking Quebec construction unions, management return to talks

Negotiations between the Quebec Construction Association and unions representing 175,000 construction workers are set to resume again Friday, after Quebec Labour Minister Agnès Maltais met with both sides Thursday to try to kickstart a new round of talks.

Officials with the Quebec Construction Association aren't commenting on what was said behind closed doors, although the head of the construction wing of the Quebec Federation of Labour, Yves Ouellet, did talk to reporters briefly.

"We know that we can achieve an agreement," said Ouellet, saying it is up to both sides to make concessions.

"If they're ready to talk in an hour, we'll be ready to negotiate in an hour," he said.

He said the unions do not want members to be forced to return to their job sites through back-to-work legislation, a step Premier Pauline Marois has made it clear she is prepared to take, albeit reluctantly.

"We will be deeply unhappy to have to pass a special law," Marois said earlier Thursday.

Maltais said little after her meetings with both sides, except to thank them for responding to an appeal from the conciliator to return to the table.

"Now, let's let them work towards an agreement," said Maltais, after her meeting.

The unions are seeking a 3 per cent salary hike in the first year of a contract, with 2.75 per cent increases in each of the following two years.

They say employers are trying to reduce compensation for overtime hours, while construction companies say they want workers to accept more flexible schedules.