Close to 2,000 crane operators abandoned major work sites right across Quebec Monday, virtually paralyzing construction in a wildcat strike to protest against a reduction in the number of hours required to pilot a crane.
The Commission de la construction du Québec (CCQ), which regulates the construction industry, has declared the strike illegal, warning protesters and their union that they could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
The operators take issue with a new rule that allows workers with little training to operate a crane even if they do not have a professional crane operator’s diploma, said their union, FTQ-Construction, in a news release Monday.
The union said it did not organize the pressure tactic, however, it supports the crane operators’ concerns.
“Crane operators have a dangerous job, and the requirement that they have a DEP [professional diploma] ensures that anyone operating a crane or a boom truck has had solid training,” the union said. Since the introduction of the DEP in 1989, it said, accidents involving cranes on Quebec work sites have decreased by 66 per cent.
The union has filed a complaint with Quebec’s ombudsman, calling the rule change — which went into effect May 14 — a safety concern not just for workers but also for the public, since cranes often move heavy objects overhead in densely populated areas.
The workers have been stepping up pressure tactics for more than a month, beginning with a demonstration in front of Premier Philippe Couillard’s Montreal office on May 5.
Last week, the crane operators working on the new Champlain Bridge deserted that construction site.
On June 9, a crane was set on fire in a parking lot in the borough of Rivière-des-Prairies—Pointe-aux-Trembles in Montreal’s east end, and police have since confirmed the fire was intentionally set with the use of accelerants.
Guillaume Houle, spokesperson for the Association de la construction du Québec (ACQ), which represents construction companies, could not confirm how many job sites are affected by the strike.