COVID-19: Thousands sign petition urging businesses and unions to shut down construction sites

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

The issue of whether most construction site work should be deemed an essential service – not subject to COVID-19 stay-at-home provisions – has turned into a debate where a significant number of construction workers are calling on unions and businesses to take the virus much more seriously.

Caledon-based construction worker Christopher Morgan started an online petition on Change.org to “our provincial and federal governments to close all construction sites” which had attracted more than 16,000 signatures by Sunday night, with many additional responses each minute.

“Skilled trades people have no running water to wash our hands and most sites have well over 50 people if not 100,” he wrote. “We want to be at home in this time to be with our families as well. There is no need to hurry along these projects while risking our own families and ourselves.”

Joe Mancinelli, international vice-president and regional manager for central and eastern Canada of the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) was quoted by the Globe and Mail as saying there is no protocol for dealing the pandemic on construction sites, including following the advice of health experts for hand hygiene and social distancing.

“As we continue to navigate through unprecedented times with the rise of COVID-19 we must continue to work diligently to improve health and safety standards on job-sites,” Mancinelli said in a statement Sunday night. “We will continue to work call on all employer partners, industry and all levels of government to navigate through this together and ensure LiUNA Members and all workers remain safe. 

“If these issues are not resolved in an expedited manner we will have no choice but to recommend a complete and total shutdown of the construction industry.”

(LiUNA Local 183, the largest union local in North America, closed its North York offices last week when one of its employees reported a positive COVID-19 test, and four other workers awaited  test results. The initial test result proved to be a false positive, and the other employees tests came out negative.)

Canadian Construction Association (CCA) president Mary Van Buren said in a statement Sunday night: “At this time, the CCA recommends that construction and related manufacturing operations remain operational.”

In her statement, Van Buren said the CCA will “continue to actively evaluate this position as the COVID-19 situation evolves and in support of health and government directives.”

She wrote: “As part of normal business practice and operations, the construction industry already has in place and implements highly disciplined health and safety protocols on construction sites and at manufacturing facilities. In the current environment, our members have significantly amplified these protocols and implemented new measures based on recommendations from governments and public health authorities.”

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday, Van Buren says the CCA  “urgently calls on the Government of Canada for the following actions and information:

  • Specific details on how companies and individuals can access the financial relief announced by the Government of Canada. This is critical as it allows business owners to focus on health and safety without the pressing fear of business failure.
  • Consistent guidelines and best practices from public health authorities across the country to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all workers on construction sites and at manufacturing facilities.
  • A clear statement, supported by a commitment to future legislation, which addresses how the Government of Canada will treat delays, project disruptions and other COVID-19 related costs under federal contracts, as well as federal leadership in active dialogue with provincial authorities on a consistent approach to these issues.
  • Prioritization of critical infrastructure and collaborative work with industry to prioritize allocation of essential resources, including manufacturing capacity to provide needed materials and equipment.
  • Instructions to Export Development Canada (EDC) and Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) to urgently engage with industry and the financial services sector to deploy additional domestic credit to mitigate the short-term financial impact of COVID-19 related project delays and costs.”

“This is a challenging time for all Canadians,” she wrote. “The construction sector stands ready to support the Government of Canada as it manages the COVID-19 crisis. This includes re-directing efforts to higher priority projects like hospitals and/or if directed, an orderly and thoughtful stoppage of some or all work in consultation with the industry.”

At a news conference on Saturday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford responded to questions about whether he  is considering a full shutdown of the province. “Eventually, we may be going down that road,” he said.

The Globe and Mail reports that some construction businesses have decided to take their own actions. Mattamy Homes Canada, part of North America’s largest privately-owned home builder, announced that it has temporarily suspended construction work at all of its sites.

9 COMMENTS

  1. My husband is a project manager who supports the frontline construction personnel. What is the direction for this group of the workforce? What measures could companies take for them? Do these people not have families to whom they return to?

  2. Well just wondering why were in quarantine me and my kids social distancing and here for 2 weeks and construction is still open putting my family at risk ????

  3. It is unbelievable to me that we can’t have coffee with a family member but yet putting these tradesman at risk. Ridiculous. It’s all about the money and deadlines they work in areas where there over 100 construction workers. No running water. No hand sanitizers. Side by side to complete tasks. Comon. Start looking at these tradesman as someone’s father husband or child and start protecting them and their families. I just can’t believe that two weeks is going to make that much of a difference. Many are behind schedule anyways and I’m sure that 2 weeks isn’t going to make that big of a difference.

  4. My husband works with and drives with his crew daily from 4am to 6pm. I am a person with a compromised immune system and have to avoid him for fear he can kill me with a hug.
    Why does Liuna not stand up to the employers ?
    And the association and Van Buren making speeches from the safety of their sanitized offices. Shame.
    My husband snd his crew fo not have running water or soap or sanitizers or anything else except what they take themselves. Class Action lawsuit waiting to happen. Mr Ford step up and hold the employers and unions both accountable. People will die and ig us this government who is to blame.

  5. This to me is clearly not a lockdown it’s a disaster in the making I’m home with kids and my husband is working u don’t trust these construction sites !!! Do they see the owners on site ??? Nooooo of course not their all of a sudden in quarantine

  6. Shame on you Mary Van Buren! You clearly don’t care about your workers!

    Let’s put the hard hat, boots and gloves on you and get you working with the trades and see how you like it! You and your associations put these men/women’s lives in jeopardy.

    We are in a middle of a world crisis and all you top dogs seem to care more about the bottom line that our families lives!

    Shut it down already!!

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