Serious Concerns of Workers as Construction Sites Reopen in Quebec

Interview with Simon Lévesque, Head of Health and Safety, FTQ-Construction

Workers' Forum: On April 28, the Quebec government decreed the reopening of construction sites and manufacturing companies on May 11. Are all construction sites currently open throughout Quebec?

Simon Lévesque: Yes, all construction sectors have been open since May 11. This means almost all construction sites have also reopened, except for a few that have decided not to reopen right away, or that may not reopen at all, probably for economic reasons.

WF: What has come out of this first week of reopening?

SL: My impression is that in the midst of this reopening, there is pressure from employers to go back to business as usual, although the situation calls for changes in the way we work. For example, there is a concern among employers to protect themselves from COVID-19, a legal protection I would say, rather than protection through prevention.

For example, we have a guide for COVID-19 for construction sites, which includes a lot of measures that should be taken.

Among other things, there is the validation of the health status of workers when they arrive on the construction site. The employer must validate the state of health of each of their workers on a daily basis, when they arrive on the site, by asking the following questions: do they have symptoms of COVID-19, are they in contact with someone who has COVID-19, and have they returned from a trip outside the country within the last two weeks? If the answer is yes to any of the questions, the worker must go back and stay home. Obviously, the question of whether they have travelled recently, when it is always the same workers who work on the site, does not really have to be asked every day. What we have observed is that employers, one week after all sectors have reopened, are already saying that they are fed up with doing this validation. They have created a validation form on which workers simply check off their answers, or a small application that can be clicked. They compile the answers and say yes, they have asked the questions. But did they take the time to talk with the workers? They don't have time for that. This is being done mainly to protect themselves legally rather than to engage in social dialogue with the workers. In my opinion, if we do not establish social dialogue in a crisis like this, we will never find it again.

There is also, especially with Premier Legault's current talk about the importance of masks to curb COVID-19, a temptation for employers to find protective equipment that will allow us to work as before, with masks and visors for example, and to relax the requirement for us to maintain a two-metre distance as much as humanly possible. We are in discussions about this with the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNEEST) and Public Health.

In my opinion, the issue of masks on construction sites is a two-edged sword because the emphasis is on equipment rather than work methods. We maintain that we must continue to work to achieve the two-metre distance, that we must plan the work so that there are maximum preventative measures being taken on construction sites as an integral part of the organization of the work, that we must work on work methods, even if we get masks and visors.

On job sites, projects are behind schedule. Work is being sped up to catch up with the delays, to get back to profitability, etc. Employers are saying that it will cost more to find safer work methods. We were back at work very quickly, with people everywhere, while the unions do not have the prevention mechanisms in place to be effective everywhere and in all areas.

In other words, with this first week of work being resumed we have serious concerns. It will be quite a challenge to get through this crisis and ensure that the work is done safely.

This article was published in

Number 35 - May 19, 2020

Article Link:
Serious Concerns of Workers as Construction Sites Reopen in Quebec: Interview with Simon Lévesque, Head of Health and Safety, FTQ-Construction


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