Talks continue in Quebec construction strike

MONTREAL — An alliance of construction trade unions and employers’ groups returned to the bargaining table Friday as Quebec’s construction strike kept work sites quiet for a third day.

The negotiations resumed with a provincially appointed conciliator at the table, one day after Premier Philippe Couillard signalled he would begin the process of adopting back-to-work legislation Monday if there is no agreement.

About 175,000 workers launched the unlimited general strike on Wednesday, crippling activity on major projects such as the Champlain Bridge and a Montreal superhospital.

Work schedules and overtime are believed to be at the heart of the conflict in the industrial sector, while salaries are the main stumbling block in the residential sector.

This is the second general strike in the Quebec construction industry in four years.

Talks that resumed late Thursday and centred on issues like insurance, pension and leaves extended into the early morning hours but were qualified as a failure by both sides.

Union spokesman Michel Trepanier said those core issues are “extremely important for workers” as they concern all sectors.

Eric Cote, a spokesman for the Quebec Construction Association, one group of employers, said representatives for his group emerged early Friday suggesting those talks were a waste of time.

Despite the lack of traction, Trepanier said he has his fingers crossed.

“I hope we will be able to get out of this with a negotiated agreement in all sectors, for all of our workers in the construction industry,” he said, adding the union is ready to negotiate day and night to avoid any back-to-work law.

“If it takes the whole weekend, it will take the whole weekend.”

In Quebec City, Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee blamed Couiillard and Labour Minister Dominique Vien for their “mismanagement of this negotiating process.”

“The minister has been absent and inactive for too long,” Lisee said, adding the threat of legislation was invoked too soon. He argued the rumblings began even before the workers went on strike.

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