April 18, 2019

Regulatory Changes in Quebec Crane Operator Training

Expert Panel Report Does Not
Respect Safety Demands of Those
Who Do the Work

Crane operators protest changes to training regulations, Montreal, May 5, 2018.

New Brunswick Public Sector
Workers Step Up the Fight for Fitting Wages and Working Conditions
Interview - Simon Ouellette, Communications Representative, CUPE Maritimes

Letter to the Editor
Re: History of Alcoa

Regulatory Changes in Quebec Crane Operator Training

Expert Panel Report Does Not Respect Safety
Demands of Those Who Do the Work

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 down 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 training requirement.

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 be greatly 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.

Instead, the 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.

The situation 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.[1]

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.[2] 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.

The report of the 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.

For example, the panel 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 operator apprentice 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 comparable skills." (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 training?

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 things such 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 and injury 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:

- "Workers 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.
- "Self-Serving and Twisted Logic and Actions of the Rulers," Pierre Chénier, Workers' 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 responsibility 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.

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New Brunswick Public Sector

Workers Step Up the Fight for Fitting Wages
and Working Conditions

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 nursing 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" campaign. "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 Liberal 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 for 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 considers 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 public services 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 struggle.

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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 Services in Nursing Homes Act 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.

Workers' Forum 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 extending 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 judgment, and 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 settlement.

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 more 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 rising 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 the wage 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 also 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
from overwork.

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.

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Letter to the Editor

Re: History of Alcoa

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 Westinghouse.

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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