Busy, busy, busy. It’s that time of year when many in the province are enjoying their summer vacations, while those of us in the heavy construction industry are hard at work, continuing to make progress on important initiatives.
This month, one of the initiatives I am working on involves the City of Regina. A motion that I have been following closely was up for debate by Regina city council.
That motion is about local procurement and economic recovery. What was of particular interest in that motion is that it calls for a fair wage policy for all construction, maintenance and service contracts.
In mid-August, the motion came up before council and I made a submission on behalf of the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association. Ours was among a number of submissions made by private employers, business groups, industry associations, labour groups and more.
SHCA’s position is that a fair wage policy should not be implemented at this time. This was the recommendation of city administration, and we agree with that recommendation. To us, it is government over-reach.
Council voted on the motion that would bring about a fair wage policy on Aug. 17. The vote was split, 5-5, meaning the motion was defeated. Mayor Sandra Masters was quoted in the media as saying, “The information that was shared with council is that we are providing a solution for a problem that may not quite exist right now.”
In my submission, I explained the implications of such a policy and raised questions not yet answered about it. I share this so you know what we brought forward.
For example, I described the current financial stresses in the construction industry with increased costs for fuel, building materials, equipment, vehicles, parts and more.
Competition for labour is very tight right now, so employers recognize they need to pay their people well. Asking these employers to pay even more would mean some would have to lay off employees or close their doors.
Second, I reminded them that contracts awarded by the City of Regina are usually with a general contractor, who enlist sub-contractors. A GC would have difficulty providing wage information for the employees of the sub-trades. Then, there is the administration of that wage information. There are privacy implications. Plus, it would be difficult to control or manage that information as contractors can and do move workers between job sites. City officials would also have more work, which could further delay the awarding of contracts, which would impact scheduling and capacity for the industry.
Third, in response to it being proposed that a mandatory apprenticeship requirement be enacted, I explained that heavy civil construction does not have apprenticeship or journeyman designations for occupations outside of the heavy equipment mechanic positions. Having such a requirement for all contractors would exclude our sector from bidding on city work.
Fourth, I explained how employees in our industry are compensated, which is based on skill, training, experience and the type of work they are undertaking. These factors are also weighed against what the market will bear. Only mining employees receive better pay than those in our industry in our province. Employees in our industry also receive benefits such as medical, dental, health spending accounts, company vehicles and additional training.
Finally, I described the quality of the work done by our members. I explained that those doing municipal construction work invest significantly in quality control to ensure the products and materials they provide meet or exceed specifications. Contractors invest in quality control testing, spending on equipment and services.
The City of Regina has been doing a remarkable job on local procurement. Almost all construction services are awarded locally, and all have been staying with Saskatchewan contractors. The community benefits when local vendors are trusted.
That is also why we asked that city administration and council to work with sectors such as ours on a second motion around Indigenous procurement that was before council. We encouraged the City of Regina to work with sectors like ours as it creates its policy on this as we have strong representation of Indigenous people working in our industry. We know there is more work to be done as we talk and learn while building a stronger relationship, but a lot has been learned so far that we could share. This motion on Indigenous procurement was passed unanimously.
I appreciate that city administration and council engaged business as it considered these motions and policy to be developed. Industries like ours have learned a lot as we worked through policy changes with various levels of government. Being able to bring that valuable experience to the table contributes to government’s understanding what business needs to be successful working with them.