Crane operators off the job in Quebec, protesting new training rules

Crane operators off the job in Quebec, protesting new training rules

MONTREAL — Crane operators disrupted work sites across Quebec on Monday with an illegal strike, according to the provincial agency that enforces construction labour rules.

A spokeswoman for Quebec's Construction Commission said the agency was calling on crane operators who've been "strongly encouraged" to stay home as well as construction entrepreneurs to file a complaint.

Unions representing Quebec's crane operators aren't pleased that people without a vocational diploma will be able to obtain a crane operator's certificate.

The new provincial government policy introduced this year was in response to a lack of workers.

"There are situations that have been reported to us, in fact, where crane operators came to work this morning and received sufficiently convincing visits to decide to leave work. These are situations that were reported to us," said commission spokeswoman Melanie Malenfant.

"What we are seeing across Quebec is that there are very few, if any, crane operators at work this morning," she added, noting that work continues at some sites where cranes aren't required at the moment.

It remains unclear how long the operators will be protesting. The commission says it is investigating.

Strikes or concerted slowdowns are prohibited in the collective agreements signed with various trade unions that remain in effect until 2021.

Those found guilty of participating in such actions can be subject to hefty fines ranging from $7,960 to $79,587 a day for associations or their representatives and between $57 and $199 for workers.

Quebec Labour Minister Dominique Vien called on workers to get back to the job quickly, noting the collective agreement prohibits ordering, encouraging or supporting a strike, slowdown or lockout.

"I invite them to resume work quickly out of respect for the users concerned by the progress and schedules of major infrastructure projects underway," she said in a statement.

Local 791-G, affiliated with the Quebec Federation of Labour's construction wing, argues the new program top train crane operators is less comprehensive and could lead to a rise in workplace accidents.

The pressure tactics began last Thursday, when operators left work at the new Champlain Bridge site linking Montreal and its south shore, and they reached their peak on Monday, with several shipyards sitting idle. 

For its part, the labour federation said it supports the local but wasn't behind the job actions, noting it is also affiliated with other unions including electricians, labourers, bricklayers and others.

Lia Levesque, The Canadian Press