A private member’s bill is proposing changes to the tendering process for the construction of publicly funded infrastructure, which currently requires municipalities to tender the work out to unionized contractors.
“For more than three decades, certain unions have been able to exploit a loophole in Ontario’s labour laws that allows them to force municipalities to contract out work on large infrastructure projects to companies only they represent,” said Michael Harris, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga, in a news release. “This unfair labour practice prevents roughly 70 per cent of qualified contractors from working on our bridges, water treatment facilities and public buildings—just because they don’t hold the right union card or have chosen not to hold one at all.”
Sault Ste. Marie is among the municipalities that have been impacted by the practice, referred to as closed tendering, along with Hamilton, Kitchener, and Toronto. Harris said the Labour Relations Act fails to clearly define the role of public-sector employers.
In the absence of a clear definition, the Ontario labour board allows certain unions to certify municipalities and school boards under collective-bargaining rules that were designed and only intended to apply to construction companies operating in the private sector, he said.
“In this day and age, it is unacceptable for the province to stand by and allow thousands of contractors to be prevented from working on public infrastructure because of a legal loophole,” Harris said in the release. “That’s why I am calling on all members of the Legislative Assembly to support much-needed legislative reform.”
To restore and preserve open tendering, Harris tabled Bill 73, the Fair and Open Tendering Act, on May 16 at Queen’s Park. This bill, if passed, would add a very clear definition to the Labour Relations Act for public-sector employers that would exempt municipalities and school boards from the province’s collective-bargaining rules for the construction industry.
The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) have both been actively working to gain support for fair and open construction tendering and Harris’s Bill, said Ian DeWaard, regional director with CLAC.
“We are pleased that Mr. Harris has put forward this fair proposal.”