Ontario Construction News staff writer
Ontario’s new labour minister Monte McNaughton says he intends to focus on building dialogue with organized labour and will not impose any surprises on the industry, indicating that jarring changes to the province’s construction labour laws will not occur under his watch.
In a pre-Labour Day interview, he said among his first calls when he was appointed minister were to union leaders including Pat Dillon, business manager and secretary-treasurer of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario. He said he would be the first provincial labour minister to join union members in yesterday’s annual Labour Day Parade in Toronto,
“I’m spending the first few weeks on the job, reaching out to labor leaders across the province,” McNaughton said.
“I’ve reached out to more than 100 labor leaders in Ontario and my message is clear.”
“I want to open a dialogue with you. We’re not going to agree on everything but my door is always open and know that you can always bring your concerns, where we find a common ground. I’ve been very clear that I’m going to work with labour. So, you know, as of right now I’m just spending my first few weeks on the job of listening to labour leaders talking about all kinds of issues.”
McNaughton declined to discuss specific anticipated legislative or regulatory changes, but indicated he has no plans to go along with calls by non-union contractors represented by Merit Ontario and others to end or significantly modify the construction industry’s sometimes contentious card-based certification model.
He also indicated he will take into consideration concerns by both organized trades and the Christian Labour Alliance of Ontario (CLAC) about potential problems with “skill set” certification, which if implemented, would allow less qualified workers to do certain jobs. That deccision currently rests with Ross Romano, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.
“Ny message to all the labour leaders has been crystal clear,” McNaughton said. “I want an open dialogue. There will be no surprises” and he will seek “common ground to work together.”
“We’re not going to agree on everything, but my door is always open,” he said. “I’ve been clear that I’m going to work with labour. So, you know, as of right now I’m just spending my first few weeks working with labour leaders talking about all kinds of issues.”
McNaughton said his priorities are “labour peace and prosperity” and ensuring safety.
He said as infrastructure minister, he helped write the plan to invest $144 billion in infrastructure and transportation projects over the next decade. “We’re going to need more carpenters, electricians, plumbers, co-ordinators, all of them. And we need as a government, as the province to work with our labour leaders to ensure that we have enough workers to fill the thousands of positions (that) we’re going to need over the next decade,” he said.
McNaughton says he will steer clear of ideologically-based decisions. “Unions and labour leaders play a huge part” in the industry and economy. “So, you know, I’m doing things differently. . . I respect workers, I care about them, I care about their safety, and I want to set a clear message that I’m standing with them.”
He said he appreciates the importance of a good paying job and that “everyone deserves to come home safe after a hard day’s work.”
He said his first statistic that hit him when he took office was that 24 young workers were killed on the job in the province between 2014 and 2018. “That makes me very angry,” he said. “One death at a workplace is too many for me as Minister and I firmly believe that every mom and dad deserves to know their child is going to return home after a hard day’s work.”
McNaughton said he intends to maintain a formal “working group assembled between myself and our government and our construction workers and other labour groups across the province.”
“I can be crystal clear that we don’t (want) surprises. I’m working every single day to keep the lines of communication open,” he said. “Going forward, and labour groups and labour leaders and workers and businesses are all going to play a key role in in building this workforce in the future.”
“So I’m going to continue listening in the weeks ahead and working shoulder to shoulder with union workers and businesses to ensure that we continue building jobs and opportunities,” he said.