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Building communities Building Canada
Tuesday, March 19, 2019

View From Ottawa - by Bob Blakely - Chief executive officer for Canada’s building Trades unions

Earlier this year, the government in British Columbia decided to do business a little differently. It introduced Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) for key public sector infrastructure projects in the province. What this means is that for projects like the new Pattullo Bridge or the four-lane projects on the Trans-Canada Highway between Kamloops and Alberta, the communities that surround these projects will benefit from these projects.

Language in a CBA can include things like a fair wage for those working on the job. That language can also support new businesses, create environmental improvements and improve streetscapes and local infrastructure. These CBAs mean better training, more pathways to apprenticeships and more opportunities for Indigenous people, women and young people to find a meaningful career in the construction industry.

Strong language in a CBA agreement will not only lift the community where it is applied, it will strengthen the construction industry as a whole.

We are set to lose approximately 300,000 industry participants due to retirement within the next 10 years. We need to replace our retiring members, otherwise we risk not having enough workers for valuable work opportunities on various job sites from coast to coast.

Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) understands the importance of this issue and the steps taken by the B.C. government, and similar steps taken by the federal government to introduce CBAs earlier this year, are steps in the right direction.

The CBTU represents over half a million unionized construction workers in Canada. Construction is 14 per cent of Canada’s GDP and accounts for eight per cent of all direct employment. We maintain a building stock worth about $1 trillion.

One of the principal features of organized construction is that we’re the largest private sector trainer in Canada. We maintain 175 training centres across the country, with a bricks and sticks value of around $1 billion. We train our members there. We expend somewhere between $300 million and $350 million a year on pre-apprenticeship training, safety training, apprenticeship, graduate level training, upgrading and new technologies. Virtually every cent of that money is from investments made by our members and our employer partners through collective bargaining. The investment makes our construction workforce in Canada the best in the world.

As we continue to entice traditional individuals to the construction trades and its apprenticeship programs, we must also expand and attract a new demographic to the skilled trades. The CBTU’s Build TogetHER initiative supports the recruitment and retention of workers from underrepresented portions of the population such as Indigenous people, veterans, new Canadians, individuals with disabilities, women and the next generation. Build TogetHER is making a difference, and we need to continue to engage with underrepresented workers so they not only enter the construction industry, but successfully complete their apprenticeship and gain meaningful employment.

Community Benefits Agreements provide support for communities by getting people apprenticeship ready. The little understood fact is that success in the construction trades isn’t easy; it takes the same level of intellect to complete a skilled trade’s apprenticeship as it does to get a university degree.

Ensuring that we as the CBTU are fighting for community benefits is an important aspect of the work we do. It is important that we continue to advocate for these agreements to our elected officials, and it’s one of the issues that was discussed at our Lobby Day on Oct. 16. We focused on five key issues: investing in a skilled workforce, enhancing labour standards, investing in energy and public infrastructure - including promoting Community Benefits Agreements, making labour a priority within trade agreements and ensuring labour mobility.

We build Canada’s infrastructure, and what we do builds the middle class. We lift people into that middle class with a hand up. We provide them with an opportunity for a meaningful career. It takes conscious thought to ensure that the climate is right to build better careers and to provide vehicles like Community Benefits Agreements.

Contact the BC Building Trades office
(778) 397-2220

BC Building Trades

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BC Building Trades

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