A major walk-out has crippled Quebec construction sites after a union alliance – representing roughly 175,000 workers – launched an unlimited general strike on Wednesday morning.
The protest comes after the coalition of unions failed to reach an agreement with construction company negotiators ahead of Tuesday's midnight strike deadline.
“A strike was our only option,” said Michel Trepanier, a spokesperson for the union alliance. “We negotiated right up to the last second to try to get an agreement. In fact, we accepted several times to work with a conciliator in order to reach a deal without a labour conflict.''
Work schedules and overtime are thought to be at the heart of the conflict in the industrial sector while salaries are the main stumbling block for residential workers.
A number of employers have spoken out about the strike with some unable to predict its effects and others warning that temporary job cuts could be on the cards.
“It is too early to say what any potential impact might be (but) we are closely monitoring the situation,'' said Veronique Richard-Charrier, a spokesperson for the consortium building the new $4.3 billion Champlain Bridge.
In contrast, cement maker Lafarge told the Canadian Press that it would be forced to take action if a resolution wasn’t reached soon.
“The longer the strike goes on the harder it is to recuperate the volumes lost,” spokeswoman Karine Cousineau told the news outlet. “We have a very short construction window in Quebec so the longer it lasts the more product lines are going to be affected.”
Labour minister Dominique Vien warned that the walkout could mean losses of up to $45 million a day for the Quebec economy and said conciliators are ready to intervene if need be.
“The message I want to impart is that it is better to have a negotiated settlement than a special law and I think the parties here agree with that,” she said.
Premier Phillipe Couillard also pledged to end the strike sooner rather than later.
“We will not let the strike drag on,” he said. “Not because we want to favour the employers or the unions but out of concern for employment and the Quebec economy.”
The Quebec Transport Department said strikes involving engineers and construction workers have already affected more than 50 current roadwork projects across the province with another 100 upcoming projects likely to be delayed.