The Government of British Columbia recently introduced the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to govern major, publicly funded infrastructure projects in B.C. Infrastructure projects that are subject to the CBA will require employees on those projects to join specified trade unions.
The first infrastructure projects that will be subject to the CBA are the Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project and the Trans-Canada Highway 1 Kamloops to Alberta Border Four‐Laning Project. The CBA will apply to other projects, as agreed to between the Government of B.C. and the Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council of British Columbia (AIRCC).
While acknowledging increased costs to infrastructure projects, the government maintains that the CBA will “deliver good-paying jobs, better training and apprenticeships, and more trades opportunities for Indigenous peoples, women and youth around the province.”
The CBA is similar to a system that the NDP introduced in the 1990s under the Skills Development and Fair Wage Act (Act). The Act aimed to “ensure skill development training in the construction industry” and “ensure high quality work standards” and “fair wages for work performed” on publicly funded projects. A major component of the regime was the formation of Highway Constructors Ltd. (HCL), a wholly owned subsidiary of BC Transportation Financing Authority (BCTFA). Through HCL, BCTFA pursued “social and economic benefits for the province” and promoted “local hiring, as well as equity training and hiring”. Similar to BCIB, HCL acted as the employer for labour on major transportation projects, such as the Vancouver Island Highway Project, the Lions Gate Bridge Rehabilitation and the Port Mann Bridge.
The stated aims of the CBA are to develop and maintain a skilled workforce for major infrastructure projects, and include the following:
- To allow any contractor to bid on and perform a given infrastructure project
- To provide hiring flexibility for contractors, who can “name hire” all supervisors, and between two and four employees (depending on the number of trades and employees required)
- To develop and grow skilled and experienced labour through coordinated access to existing training programs, while identifying and addressing skills gaps
- To maximize apprenticeship opportunities and skills training with the aim to develop a skilled workforce
- To ensure that local areas benefits from local infrastructure projects through priority hiring for individuals who live within close proximity to projects
- To ensure that construction proceeds safely, efficiently and economically
- To prioritize apprenticeships, skills training and employment opportunities for Indigenous people, women, people with disabilities, and other disadvantaged groups
- To provide wage alignment to prevailing industry rates through an agreement that all wages and benefits will be increased two per cent per year for the duration of the CBA
The CBA’s objectives are to be fulfilled by the creation of a recently incorporated Crown corporation, BC Infrastructure Benefits Inc. (BCIB).
The CBA forms the labour agreement between BCIB and AIRCC. The Government of British Columbia has indicated that BCIB will act as the employer entity and will provide the labour workforce for the construction of select infrastructure projects. Section 8.100 of the CBA provides that all employees must be members of, or secure membership in, the appropriate union and must maintain membership in good standing. Successful companies will become “contractors” and their workforce will be supplied by BCIB.
There will be exceptions for workers from certain industries. For example, the following will not be required to join unions under the CBA:
- Security, fire prevention and personnel performing health and safety and investigative functions
- Professional engineers who are employed in a professional capacity
- One clerical person per contractor in a site office whose duties include confidential and financial matters
- Entities performing relocation work for municipal sewer and water works and utility companies
- Entities performing Indigenous cultural, archeological and environmental monitoring oversight
PATTULLO BRIDGE REPLACEMENT PROJECT – REQUEST FOR QUALIFICATIONS
On July 16, 2018, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure issued a request for qualifications for the Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project (RFQ). The RFQ discusses the CBA, and states, “BCIB will provide the labour force and manage labour relations for Project Co and its contractors and subcontractors working on the Project.” Under the RFQ, Project Co is required to enter into a contract with BCIB for the supply of labour.
The creation of the CBA and BCIB suggests there will be significant changes in the administration and labour relations on infrastructure projects in B.C. Companies bidding on contracts subject to the CBA will need to consider the impacts of the new labour and administrative structures as they develop.