Ontario construction associations call for Labour Relations Act updates
By Adam FreillConstruction Labour
Organizations release industry paper outlining changes they say will enable the sector to meet province’s building needs.
The General Contractors’ Association of Toronto (GCAT) and the Golden Horseshoe General Contractors’ Association (GHGCA) recently published an industry paper calling on the Government of Ontario to update the province’s Labour Relations Act (LRA). Titled Planning for Ontario’s Building Boom: Ontario’s Construction Industry and the Need to Reform the Labour Relations Act, the report outlines several specific changes the two organizations say are required to enable the construction sector to meet the province’s building needs in the upcoming years.
The associations explain that Ontario’s construction sector, which accounts for about eight per cent of Ontario’s GDP, is vitally important to Ontario’s economic prosperity and will play a critical role in delivering on the province’s “Plan to Build,” which was outlined in recent provincial budget documents, but they are concerned about labour-related issues. Build Force Canada’s 2023-2032 Construction Maintenance Looking Forward report, projects that the industry will need over 100,000 new workers in Ontario over the next 10 years — an additional 36,300 workers just to keep up with construction demands — while 82,600 people currently in the sector are expected to retire during this period.
While acknowledging that the current government has been a champion of the skilled trades, and has introduced new programs to attract more people into the sector, the associations say the labour shortage and the province’s outdated labour relations framework could imperil the sector’s ability to contribute to economic recovery.
“The Labour Relations Act is largely unchanged since the early 1980s, no longer representing the industrial, commercial and institutional construction sector we have today,” stated Jim Vlahos, executive director of GCAT. “This outdated legislation mandates contract lengths that do not match up with how long many projects now take and potentially generates work stoppages that can drag out project timelines and influence the increase of project costs.”
The associations are specifically calling for the revitalization of the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) construction sector provisions in the LRA. Proposed changes include:
- Encouraging longer-term planning by lengthening the term of collective agreements to four years.
- Providing a greater framework to collective bargaining, similar to the one that already exists in the residential construction sector in the GTA.
- Improving the grievance process and optimize the resources of the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
- Establishing “special commercial and institutional” conditions covering smaller-scale commercial and institutional projects to restore competitiveness.
- Recognizing, in statute, that a lack of qualified sub-contractors is a situation that can give rise to a competitive disadvantage for contractors.
- Enhancing the provisions regarding “project labour agreements” such that any project which receives provincial government funding of $5 million or more must have one in place.
“Today, smaller projects are not competitive for unionized labour. We have consulted with our union partners to ensure overall industry support,” said Jason Ball, president of Ball Construction and board member of GHGCA. “The key takeaway from these discussions has been that the recommendations provided will improve and help to grow the unionized ICI construction sector, increasing the ability for the sector to build more effectively and efficiently.”
The associations added that their shared goal is to solve for the current challenges the sector faces while carving a path forward that will help Ontario meet its building needs and demands.
The full industry paper can be downloaded at https://ghgca.ca/paper.