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.