Harris calls for end of closed tendering in Sault Ste. Marie

SAULT STE. MARIE — Ontario’s labour laws should be amended to ensure that qualified contractors in Sault Ste. Marie are no longer denied their right to work on taxpayer-funded infrastructure, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris said today.

“For more than three decades, certain unions have been able to exploit a loophole in Ontario’s labour laws that allows them to force municipalities to contract out work on large infrastructure projects to companies only they represent,” Harris said at a meeting with contractors in Sault Ste. Marie.

“This unfair labour practice prevents roughly 70% of qualified contractors from working on our bridges, water treatment facilities and public buildings – just because they don’t hold the right union card or have chosen not to hold one at all.”

Several municipalities, including Hamilton, Kitchener, Sault Ste. Marie and Toronto, have fallen victim to this practice, referred to as closed tendering, simply because the Labour Relations Act fails to clearly define the role of public-sector employers.

In the absence of a clear definition, the Ontario labour board allows certain unions to certify municipalities and school boards under collective-bargaining rules that were designed and only intended to apply to construction companies operating in the private sector.

“In this day and age, it is unacceptable for the province to stand by and allow thousands of contractors to be prevented from working on public infrastructure because of a legal loophole. That’s why I am calling on all members of the Legislative Assembly to support much-needed legislative reform.”

To restore and preserve open tendering, Harris tabled Bill 73, the Fair and Open Tendering Act, on May 16 at Queen’s Park. This bill, if passed, would add a very clear definition to the Labour Relations Act for public-sector employers that would exempt municipalities and school boards from the province’s collective-bargaining rules for the construction industry.

The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) have both been actively working to gain support for fair and open construction tendering and Harris’s Bill, said Ian DeWaard, regional director with CLAC. “We are pleased that Mr. Harris has put forward this fair proposal.”

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