Ontario’s unionized industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) construction industry has recently completed a round of collective bargaining. There were no work stoppages in this round of bargaining, signalling a willingness of labour and management representatives to work together to ensure stability in Ontario’s construction industry.
Patrick Dillon of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario indicated that he was “encouraged by the fact that negotiations were completed relatively smoothly, especially in light of the economic uncertainties that the industry faces.” Meanwhile, David Brisbin of the Construction Employers Coordinating Council of Ontario noted that there was a certain “maturity to the process” and added that “all parties, on both sides of the table, wanted to get down to work on agreements that provide stability going forward.” Sean Strickland, CEO of the Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS) remarked that “he was encouraged but not surprised by the ability of all parties to work together and accomplish the common goal of obtaining an agreement without a strike or lockout.”
The Ministry of Labour also played a key role in facilitating the bargaining round. Reg Pearson of the Ministry of Labour expressed his satisfaction with the process, indicating that “the parties showed their professionalism and as always an acute knowledge of their respective trades which led to settlements and commitments that they hope will carry the ICI construction sector forward.” Pearson noted that it was a positive experience for Ministry of Labour Mediators to have been of assistance to the parties and to share in the success. He also added that “the concentration placed on trusting relationships and common endeavours between Labour, Employers, and Government through the work of the Ontario Construction Secretariat goes a long way in setting the foundation for positive results such as this year’s bargaining.”
While most trades will see steady or successively higher wage increases through their three year agreements, there are a few trades which have taken a more conservative strategy. For instance, some trades have opted to allow a more subdued wage increase in the second year of their agreements, compared to year one. Others have settled on a more moderate wage gain occurring in the final year of their agreements.
Looking back through history, there have been a number of measures undertaken which have improved labour-management relations and lessened labour disruptions. In 1977, legislation was passed requiring province-wide, single trade ICI negotiations. This helped make the process more organized by eliminating the fragmented nature of bargaining. The advent of this bargaining system proved immediately beneficial as the number of construction work stoppages dropped to 93 over the period of 1980-1989 from 259 in the prior decade.
This positive trend towards fewer labour disruptions in the construction industry has continued. For instance, there were over one million person-days lost to work stoppages from 1989-1992, according to the Ministry of Labour. However, from 1993 to 2010 – spanning 18 years – there were a little over 490,000 person-days lost, a reduction of over 50 per cent compared to 1989-1992.
While the establishment of the OCS in 1993 has been helpful in increasing the collaboration between labour and management groups, much credit is due to those in the industry for making this round of bargaining successful for all parties and ensuring agreements were settled without any strikes or lockouts.