BRITISH COLUMBIA – Taxpayers are getting more than just the project on the blueprint with B.C.’s new construction framework. Under a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), major public infrastructure projects in our province are doing double duty by building better lives for workers and their communities.
CBAs are supported by the Community Benefits Coalition of B.C., which was started by B.C. companies and members of the labour movement who believed that taxpayer-funded construction projects should also benefit the broader community.
CBAs were introduced by the B.C. government in July 2018. Attached to government-funded projects, CBAs integrate work for locals, skills training, apprenticeship opportunities, and fair wages into the construction of provincial infrastructure. A percentage of jobs go to those traditionally underrepresented in the skilled trades sector: apprentices, Indigenous workers and women.
Current projects under the program are the Pattullo Bridge replacement and Highway 1 improvements, the Broadway SkyTrain line, and the widening of the Trans-Canada Highway from the Alberta border to Kamloops.
Workers on CBA projects are paid an equitable wage based on their skills and experience during the job and the overall community benefits from increasing the skills of the work force. Heavy equipment operator Sonny Plante, a member of the Nisga’a Nation, says the agreements “give opportunity to not only the people (here), but people around the province itself, border to border.”
Under CBAs, money paid to workers on B.C. public contracts stays in their home communities to benefit everyone. Plus, workers gain additional skills in the booming construction sector to build better futures for themselves and their families.
Reinforcing ironworker Meika Osetsky said the opportunity “shows my daughter that I’m a proud ironworking woman who can work alongside men in the trades.”
Another woman who benefited from a similar program was Jasmine Wagner, a single mother who turned to welding to support herself and her son. Even before she completed her pre-apprenticeship from the United Association Piping Industry College of BC, she was hired to work on the Kitimat Modernization Project.
The agreements eliminate the exploitation of temporary foreign workers, who are to be hired only after exhausting all other reasonable sources of qualified labour in BC and the rest of Canada. And those workers, too, if they are hired, would be entitled to the same wages as Canadians – unlike the case of workers from Latin America hired to work on the Canada Line in 2008. Those workers were paid less than $5 an hour. One group of Costa Rican workers later won a $2.5 million settlement against the contractor, with the help of the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union.
According to an August 2018 online survey conducted by Research Co., seven out of 10 BC residents favour the CBA program.