At the recently concluded BC Building Trades Conference held in Victoria, representatives of District Council 38 and the Finishing Trades Institute of BC had the opportunity to speak with the three main Provincial parties about changes needed in the BC construction industry. The four main topics of discussion revolved around, Community Benefit Agreements, changes to the Labour Code and Employment Standards, Apprenticeship Training and Compulsory Trades and finally, the Underground Economy.
BC Building Trades Unions support Community Benefit Agreements (CBA’s) on several fronts. First of all, they ensure a fair bidding process where contractors, both union and non-union, have an equal ability to bid on publicly funded projects, knowing in advance what the bidding conditions are. CBA’s also have quotas for apprentices set at 25%, as well as provisions for women and First Nations people to participate on these projects, ensuring that a made in BC workforce is given first crack at these jobs.
Building Trades Unions are also looking for changes to the Labour Code recognizing construction as a unique industry requiring language that specifically addresses those differences. Every other province in Canada has special construction industry language in their code, so why not BC? There is also a major issue with funding for the Labour Relations Board (LRB) as well as the Employment Standards Branch (ESB). In 2004 the LRB had their budget slashed by the provincial Liberal government by 46%, affecting staffing levels, thus allowing unfair labour practices by employers to grow exponentially. The LRB and the ESB received 0% in funding increases over the term of the Liberals time in office, allowing workers to be exploited by unscrupulous employers.
We also spoke to the MLA’s about reintroduction of Compulsory Certification of construction trades. BC is the only province in Canada without such a requirement. Many people in this province are unaware that when Gordon Campbell and the Liberals eliminated Compulsory Certification, as a favour to some of their main financial contributors, they eliminated any form of consumer protection with regard to who is qualified to call themselves a tradesperson. Would you trust a doctor who didn’t attend university or a lawyer without a law degree? Anyone in this province with a pick up truck and a tool belt can call themselves a tradesperson in any trade they wish. Why would anyone attend trade school for four years when there is no longer the need? It all boils down to consumer protection and without Compulsory Certification, consumers have little to no recourse with shoddy and in some cases dangerous workmanship.
Finally, we spoke to the politicians about the need to address the underground or “Cash” economy in the construction industry. As taxpayers, we should all be outraged by the fact that millions upon millions of dollars in taxes, EI and CPP contributions, WorkSafe BC premiums and wages go unreported in the construction industry, while the rest of us pay our fair share of taxes. Thanks again to Gordon Campbell and the Liberals bowing to the wishes of their “Big Money Contributors”, a highly efficient team of investigators, charged with uncovering these violations, was disbanded allowing a free-for-all for cheating contractors. We’re not talking about the friend who paints your kitchen or patches a hole in your drywall. We’re speaking about major residential and commercial projects where the entire job was being constructed with cash payments “under the table”, in many cases to illegal immigrants.
Each one of the issues we have identified above have a profound effect on our economy, our members, our contractors our District Council and to our training facility. When we get opportunities such as these to speak with politicians of every political stripe we will always strive to educate those in power to look for better ways to address our collective concerns as well as the interests of all British Columbians.