April 18, 2019
Changes in Quebec Crane Operator Training
Report Does Not
Respect Safety Demands of Those
Who Do the Work
Crane operators protest changes to training regulations, Montreal, May
• Workers Step Up the Fight for Fitting Wages
and Working Conditions
- Simon Ouellette, Communications
Representative, CUPE Maritimes
Letter to the Editor
• Re: History of Alcoa
Regulatory Changes in Quebec Crane
The Quebec government unilaterally decreed in April of
last year, new regulations governing the training of Quebec crane
operators. The decree overturned the established standards and training
that new crane operators must meet to ensure their own safety and that
of other construction workers and the public. The government handed
its decree despite widespread opposition to the regulations, in
particular from the crane operators themselves and their union.
Graphic on crane safety produced by FTQ
Construction comparing previous
870 hours mandatory classroom training to new 80-hour on-the-job
During public hearings into the proposed changes
construction workers and their unions took a firm stand, describing the
changes as unsafe and in violation of the Canadian Standards
Association's Z150 safety code under which all Quebec crane workers
fall. The code specifies the requirements related to mobile cranes to
ensure the safety of
workers and the public.
The initiative for the changes came from the
state-organized and funded Quebec Construction Commission (CCQ), which
oversees the construction trades and workers for the benefit of the
biggest construction companies. The companies complained about a
shortage of crane operators and demanded that the training regulations
relaxed to create a larger pool of available crane operators regardless
of their training and competence in the trade.
The government refuses to listen to the crane operators
and their union and insists on implementing the changes. The crane
operators and their union launched a determined struggle in opposition
including an entire week last June when they refused to report for
work. They denounced the government for imposing changes that in
essence are an
attack on well-established methods of training to ensure the safety of
all at a construction site including the public.
The crane operators articulated two main demands: the
new regulation must be withdrawn and mandatory crane operator training
be maintained and that a roundtable be created to include all concerned
parties, including teachers, to look into the problems linked to the
crane operator sector and general construction site safety.
government set up what it called an Expert Panel on regulatory
changes in crane operator training. The report submitted by the panel
at the end of March does not start from the need for training to ensure
safety. It starts from the premise of a skilled labour shortage which
is precisely the pretext being used by the construction industry and
government to lower training and safety standards.
facing crane operators in Quebec is a good example of how
what is called an expert panel is established to dismiss the workers'
demand for the enforcement of regulations which stipulate proper safety
training. It was established to overcome the fact that the workers
would not accept the lower inadequate standards and that this issue is
so serious they refused to work for a week to defend the proper system
of training. It shows that today what are called expert panels are not
trustworthy because the political aim tarnishes the integrity of the
expertise called upon to adjudicate the process.
The government must not be allowed to act against the
wishes of those involved in construction work. Crane operators and
other construction workers and their organizations must be in the
forefront of all decision-making when it comes to safety and other
concerns in their industry.
Report of the Expert Panel
The panel of independent experts, appointed by the
Quebec government to
study from a safety perspective the new regulation on crane operator
training released its report at the end of March. The new regulation
was decreed by the Quebec government, at the request of the Quebec
Construction Commission (CCQ) in April of 2018,
without the approval of the crane operators who massively and publicly
opposed it. The government
organized the panel of experts in the wake of the struggle of the crane
operators to have the new regulation withdrawn.
In its report, the Expert Panel fails to mention that
during the public hearings held in 2018, almost all participants took a
firm stand against the new regulation, describing it as unsafe and in
violation of the Canadian Standards Association's Z150 safety code
that all Quebec crane workers fall under. The crane operators claim
that the code
specifies the safety requirements relating to mobile cranes so as to
ensure the safety of workers and the public.
Expert Panel does not acknowledge the need for compulsory
and enforceable regulations regarding the training of crane operators
which must be the basis of legislation so as to actually ensure the
security of the person and a construction site. Instead, by speaking of
"guiding principles" as a frame of reference for its analysis and
recommendations, the Export Panel justifies its recommendation that the
Diploma of Vocational Studies (DVS) that has been the required standard
for crane operators, becomes a "reference" instead of a requirement.
notes that cranes are complex machines that are
crucial to understand. It says understanding of the safe operation of
these complex machines requires the mastery of basic theoretical and
practical knowledge. But how does a new crane operator acquire this
understanding and mastery without technical training and hands-on
practical education that the DVS gives them?
The report says that instead of making the DVS
compulsory, the DVS for new crane operators should become optional,
exactly what the government wants. The course becomes a so-called
reference with regard to the fundamental knowledge required for the
trade. It remains the "preferred route" for acquiring the crane
competency certificate but not a requirement.
In oblique language usually associated with "fine
print," the report goes on to say that "irrespective of the route
taken to apprenticeship, apprentice crane operators who take the
accompanying qualification examination should have a professional
background allowing them to have acquired knowledge, experience and
(Emphasis added.) This is similar to saying; "irrespective of
the route taken" to become a carpenter, electrician, doctor or engineer
you should "have a professional background allowing you to have
acquired knowledge, experience and comparable skills."
Can the Panel Be Considered Serious about Safety?
The panel is supposedly dealing with serious safety
concerns that have a long history. How can the people and construction
workers in particular take the wishy-washy words of the panel
seriously? Its guiding principles lack consistency and firmness. They
are detached from the concrete situation facing crane operators,
construction workers and
the public. Years of mounting disastrous accidents led to the
introduction of mandatory professional crane operator training in the
first place. Will workers and the public be safer if the DVS is no
longer mandatory but reduced to a "reference"; reduced to something in
the background perhaps trotted out now and again to hide the reality of
a lack of
Lost will be the fact that
the DVS came into being as a
result of the many deaths besieging the trade. The compulsory training
with competent instructors effectively reduced the number of fatalities
and accidents that have taken place since its adoption twenty years
ago. What possibly motivates the panel to write such irresponsible
as "irrespective of the route taken to apprenticeship?" Could it be
that the practical form of gaining access to an apprenticeship, the
mandatory DVS, was and still is to avoid the
deaths and accidents associated with the operation of mobile cranes but
that something else altogether motivates its replacement such as the
hysteria of the CCQ over a "labour shortage"?
The panel concludes that the company training program
decreed by the Quebec government and the CCQ to replace the DVS is
"insufficient" from the point of view of an apprenticeship and for new
workers to grasp the basic concepts required for the safe operation of
a crane. Does it then call for the DVS to continue as a proven training
method? No, it proposes a wishy-washy amendment to the proposed
government program in keeping with its wishy-washy basic consideration.
The program would include a three-week initial training in a vocational
training centre. It recommends that any further enrollment in the new
on-site training be suspended until the three-week initial
training period is implemented.
The panel begins from the point of view that the new
regulation is here to stay. It recommends that in order to blunt the
opposition a minor amendment should be included to make it appear as if
the experts were serious about safety. The only thing the panel is
serious about is to find a way to implement the dictate of the
government and CCQ
and undermine all opposition and serious discussion as to what is
necessary to bring down and keep down the unacceptable toll of death
and injury in the construction sector.
What Is Really Behind the Decision of the Government
and Its Panel of Experts?
Regarding a labour shortage, one fact well-known to all
involved in the construction sector is that on a yearly basis, 14 per
cent of workers leave construction work because the working conditions,
including safety, are intolerable. The government and CCQ do not want
an investigation as to why workers leave the industry and why the death
toll is so high. No, they simply want to relax the requirements for
entry to the trade so that new bodies are available for hire regardless
of their competency.
The panel's report does not start from the point of view
of ensuring worker and public safety above all else. It does not start
by involving the workers themselves and their organizations in
recognizing the existing problems and examining how to change the
conditions for the better. The panel is infused with the pragmatism of
those who wield
economic and political power. This pragmatism puts their company profit
before all principles. This pragmatism does not include the rights of
construction workers as inviolable, including their right to working
and living conditions acceptable to themselves and to conditions within
the construction sector acceptable to a civilized society.
Working people should redouble their support of the
struggle of crane operators to ensure the safety of all in opposition
to the intransigence and arrogance of the government and the big
business interests it serves.
1. For reports on the struggle of
crane operators in defence of their rights and the safety of all see:
Call for Release of Report on Crane Operator
Safety," Workers' Forum, March 7, 2019.
- "Crane Operators,
Allies and Experts All Say No! to Irresponsible New
Regulations," Workers' Forum, January 24, 2009.
and Twisted Logic and Actions of the Rulers," Pierre
Forum, July 19, 2018.
- "Recent Developments in
Quebec Crane Operators' Fight for Their
Rights," Workers' Forum, July 3, 2018.
2. The new regulation abolished
the mandatory character of the Diploma of Vocational Studies of 870
hours of practical training within an educational setting to become a
crane operator. Instead the diploma is now optional. A program of 150
hours has been introduced to be provided on site and under the
of construction companies. The CCQ and the government also replaced the
diploma with an 80-hour course for the operation of boom trucks with a
maximum capacity of 30 tonnes. This type of boom truck is precisely the
type of crane that overturns most frequently and causes the most damage.
New Brunswick Public Sector
More than 500 New Brunswick nursing home and other
public service workers demonstrated in front of government buildings in
Fredericton on April 12, to demand wages and working conditions
acceptable to themselves. The protest followed many actions in recent
months in front of constituency offices of governing Progressive
Conservative members of the legislative assembly. The Canadian Union of
Public Employees (CUPE) says the focus of the struggle of its 4,000
home members is a demand for a wage increase greater than the rise in
the cost of living. The union says this will improve workers' living
conditions and help to attract and retain staff in the sector, which
is badly needed.
Breaking the Mandate!
The protest was part of CUPE's "Breaking the Mandate"
"Breaking the Mandate" is the banner of the resistance of public sector
workers in defence of their rights. Workers are determined to break the
mandate of the Progressive Conservative government and the previous
government to dictate wages for public sector workers at about one per
cent per year, which is below the rise in the cost of living. Workers
declare this "mandate" is against their right to wages acceptable to
themselves. In the nursing homes sector better wages and working
conditions are needed to retain workers and to raise the level of care
many of the province's seniors.
The government has employed
a variety of tactics to
break the struggle of public sector workers, including using
legislation and the courts to deprive nursing home employees of their
right to strike to defend their demands. The New Brunswick government
has engaged in propaganda to demean nursing home employees, portraying
them as a
cost to the public treasury whose work produces no value and makes no
contribution in humanizing society. This attack on public sector
workers attempts to pave the way to criminalize their struggle in
defence of their rights.
Using outrageous accusations of public sector workers
costing the public money and producing nothing, the government says
their wages and benefits must be reduced otherwise the public treasury
will be deprived of funds to attract private investment of the
financial oligarchy through pay-the-rich schemes. Attracting private
investment of the
global rich is presented as the only way forward for the province and
the very definition of the economy, something the ruling elite have
declared not open for discussion or debate.
The government is duplicitous when stating nursing home
workers' wages and benefits are a drain on the province's resources yet
when workers fight for wages and benefits acceptable to themselves
suddenly their work becomes essential and they are forbidden from going
on strike through legislation and the courts. The Premier only
nursing home workers essential when it comes to breaking their struggle
for their rights and the rights of seniors to proper conditions and
care. The government does not consider their work essential when it
comes to providing nursing home workers with wages and working
conditions acceptable to themselves and which recognize the essential
value they bring to the province doing the difficult work caring for
some of the most vulnerable people in society.
The New Brunswick government refuses to recognize that
are a crucial sector of a modern economy, that public sector workers
create immense value for the economy and contribute greatly in
humanizing society. In opposition, working people recognize the value
public sector workers create and demand that it be realized
by other sectors of the economy and returned to the institutions that
deliver those essential public services.
Public sector workers refuse to accept the abuse of the
government and their criminalization. They are stepping up their fight
for what belongs to them by right and for modern working conditions
that allow them to deliver the services the people deserve and society
requires. All working people should stand with them in this important
On March 7, New
Brunswick nursing home workers took a 94 per cent strike vote to
support their demands for wages and working conditions that they deem
acceptable. The provincial government, instead of responding in a
positive and respectful manner, applied for and was granted an order
from the Court of Queen's Bench to interfere with the workers' right to
strike in defence of their demands. The day before the 4,100 workers
would have walked off the job on March 10, the court granted an order
depriving the workers of their right to strike for 10 days.
At the end of 2018, the
New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board ruled that the Essential
violated the right to collective bargaining for employees. According to
the ruling, the designation of essential care services in the event of
a strike did not apply to nursing homes. The government intervened to
seek a judicial review of this decision, a case that will be heard by
the Court of Queen's Bench.
interviewed Simon Ouellette, Communications Representative for CUPE
Maritimes, to find out about the situation facing these workers.
Workers' Forum: What are the latest
developments since the New Brunswick government sought and obtained a
court order to prevent you from going on strike?
Simon Ouellette: The government is trying
hard to delay our ability to exercise our right to strike. We are going
back to court on April 17 to deal with the government's appeal of the
court order. As you know, there was a court order obtained by the
government on March 9 forbidding us from going on strike for 10 days.
Following this, the government requested a second extended order to
maintain this ban. The union challenged this request and a judge then
considered both the application for an extended order and the original
order. She said neither of them was acceptable. She said that the
original order caused irreparable harm to the workers and that
the order would cause them more harm. She ruled that workers should
have a full right to strike until the judicial review of the
constitutionality of the Essential Services in Nursing Homes Act
is completed. This is
another legal process that is running parallel to the first on the
court order. The
judge ruled that, pending resolution of this issue, we would be
accorded an ordinary right to strike under the Industrial Relations
Act, which is the law that governs the entire private sector.
Nursing homes are considered to belong to the private sector, so this
law would apply to them. The government immediately appealed the
it is this appeal that will be heard this week.
The situation has been made
a judicial issue at the
moment and the issue of the constitutional rights of workers is
suspended. It seems to me that any delay in justice is a denial of
justice. Our situation is very litigious but we are talking here about
fundamental rights. The right to strike is a constitutional right
protected by Section 2 on the
freedom of association in the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms, yet governments try every time to put in place new laws
that deny this. These new laws may be overturned by the courts but that
can take years and during that process workers are deprived of a new
collective agreement. These are years when we do not improve the
working conditions for those people who actually work in the system.
There are people who may be retiring and may not even see any
In these circumstances, our union has said that if you
have taken away the legal right to go on strike, and we will be tied up
in court for a long time, then let's go to binding arbitration. We have
asked for binding arbitration as a kind of compensatory means to
unblock the situation. The provincial government said no. It said that
it could agree
to arbitration, but with a restriction. The restriction is that there
could be not be a wage increase of more than one per cent. We are no
advanced with binding arbitration if it includes this restriction
dictated by the government. We are confident that an impartial
arbitrator would be able to see the injustice that exists in the
nursing homes, that an
arbitrator would be able to say that one per cent increase is below the
cost of living. The government is adamant that the wage increase must
be one per cent per year for a four-year contract. Our demand is that
increase be at least above the rise of the cost of living. The aim is
to make wage gains and to put an end to actual wage reductions. This is
essential for the retention and recruitment of staff.
Every week lost is a harm done to workers. We are
talking about a
four-year contract and we have been negotiating for nearly 30 months.
The collective agreement ended in October 2016.
WF: At the April 12 protest there were
nurses, paramedics and other public sector workers. What did they
express by their participation?
SO: Everyone is in solidarity with our
cause. In these actions, at the moment it is mostly people who are
represented by CUPE. There is great solidarity within the union. At the
same time, we invite all workers to participate. The workers understand
that if one worker gets hit the government will want to do the same to
everyone. If the government is able to deny a wage increase that goes
beyond the cost of living to the women and men who care for the most
vulnerable people they can do the same for all workers in the public
sector. If the government can get away with taking a hard line against
those who provide this care, it will not act differently towards
other public sector workers.
Nursing home workers tell the minister to walk a
mile in their shoes
which are worn out
At the moment, negotiations are at a standstill. The
Progressive Conservative government, like the previous Liberal
government, is putting forward a classic neo-liberal vision and a
classic austerity program with wage cuts and chronic underfunding of
the public sector, for eventual privatization in the longer term. Since
the 2008 crisis there has
been no economic recovery in terms of the purchasing power of New
Brunswickers. The provincial government sees its revenues getting
reduced as it sees private sector investment falter. The government has
a narrow vision of what keeps New Brunswick's economy going. According
to the government it is private investment that counts, that's all.
Its logic is that if private investment is decreasing public spending
must be cut.
The mandate is something that the government has given
internally, that in negotiations with nurses, bus drivers, hospital
employees, etc., wage increases must be around one per cent a year.
We hope the situation can be unblocked. We want to
regain the right to strike. At the same time, there is no one who wants
a strike in nursing homes. We do not want a strike. We want an
acceptable contract, with fair and stable working conditions so we have
the staff needed to take care of people. The government may be burying
its head in
the sand and wanting to hold a hard line on wages, but that will not
eliminate the problem of staff retention.
Letter to the Editor
Dear Workers' Forum,
1943 map put out by Alcoa.
I read with interest the recent articles about the fight
of the ABI workers in Bécancour, Quebec against the company
owner Alcoa, and the other anti-worker activities Alcoa has undertaken
elsewhere in its global empire. It is instructive to look at Alcoa's
history, where one sees that it has always acted to serve narrow
private and even reactionary interests, against the well-being of
working people. Faced with such an unprincipled monopoly, workers
should remain convinced of the justness of their cause, and that they
must rely on themselves and the growing support of workers across
Canada and around the world to prevail in their struggle.
The 1889 formation of the Pittsburgh Reduction Company
(PRC) by Hunt, Clapp, and Davis to refine aluminum ore based on Charles
Hall's new aluminum reduction process was mainly financed by the
super-rich Mellon family. Banker Andrew Mellon was then U.S. Secretary
of the Treasury. The family also owned Gulf Oil and had many
other lucrative investments, for example, in U.S. Steel and
PRC was renamed Aluminum Corporation of America (Alcoa)
in 1907. Alcan was founded by PRC in Shawnigan, Quebec in 1902 under
the name Northern Aluminum Company to exploit the vast potential of
Quebec's hydroelectric power resources. A member of the Davis family
was installed as the CEO of each of Alcoa and Alcan, clearly
exposing the link between the companies, although this was denied by
both companies to avoid prosecution for violating monopoly laws.
The Mellon investments in both companies gave the family
control of both Alcoa and Alcan, along with the Davises, and a virtual
monopoly on aluminum production. This was used to continuously
strengthen domination over the entire aluminum industry and to generate
enormous profits. The Mellon fortune continued to grow to the present
day and Arthur Vining Davis died the third richest man in America.
Alcoa was one of the U.S. monopolies which collaborated
with Nazi Germany. Through its aluminum monopoly, before and during
World War II, Alcoa ensured that Nazi Germany had an unlimited supply
of aluminum to build its weaponry, e.g., airplanes, while America
suffered massive shortages. In June 1941, Harold Ickes, U.S. Secretary
of the Interior, said: "If America loses this war, it can thank the
Aluminum Corporation of America."
Alcoa/Alcan's only significant U.S. rival in aluminum
refining over the years has been Reynolds Aluminum, formed in 1910 by
the Reynold's Tobacco family. Alcoa acquired Reynolds in 2000. In 2007,
the Rothschild-controlled Rio Tinto monopoly acquired Alcan after a
U.S.$38 billion deal.
A reader in Edmonton
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