Journal of Commerce | Russell Hixson | December 30, 2019
It was another major year of news in construction and industry leaders in the west have chimed in with what they feel were the biggest news topics of 2019.
“The major story is the skilled worker shortage, an abundance of major projects, and the need for our industry employers to focus on better acquisition and retention strategies to ensure they have their required workforce,” said Chris Atchison, president of the B.C. Construction Association.
The association’s Fall Stat Pack showed B.C. has $115 billion in projects being built and another $206 billion in various stages of planning. BuildForce Canada’s 10-year projection of B.C. construction jobs that will be unﬁlled in 2028 due to labour shortages stands at 7,900. That’s a 32.5 per cent reduction from the January 2018 projection of 11,700 construction jobs unfilled in 2027. However, officials noted much of the reduction was due to project cancellations.
Andrew Mercier, executive director of the B.C. Building Trades, said the epidemic of opioid addiction and death tearing apart construction families was the year’s biggest construction story. One-third of Canada’s 11,500 overdose deaths since 2016 were men working in construction.
“Building trade unions, along with employers in the construction industry, are working together to address this crisis,” said Mercier. “Together, labour and management sponsor the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan, which is an alcohol and drug treatment program that provides mental health and addiction services to our members.”
Mercier lauded the B.C. NDP government for addressing the opioid crisis with a class action lawsuit against opioid producers in order to recover opioid-related healthcare costs. He also praised the province’s first Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions for developing innovative harm reduction efforts under the under the leadership of Judy Darcy.
Last year the Building Trades participated in the government’s Construction Industry Roundtable on the Opioid Overdose Crisis which helped establish a path forward for the individual organizations participating and the industry itself.
“This problem isn’t going away and there is far more work that needs to be done to address it,” said Mercier. “The Building Trades Council will continue to work with government, employers and industry groups to protect the health of our workers and our communities.”
Grant McMillan, strategic advisor for the Council of Construction Associations (COCA), said that continued record-low injury rates for workers in construction stood out to him. The rate measures the number of wage loss claims per 100 person years worked.
“Our primary purpose is for people to go home safe and sound,” McMillan said. “We have been campaigning actively for years and established a safety association that is still thriving. The injury rate is less than half when COCA started. We are proud of that.”
McMillan also praised the appointment of Anne Naser to president of WorkSafeBC.
“We have met with her several times and are very pleased with the initiatives she is taking to make the organization as efficient as possible,” said McMillan.
Finally, he noted that the B.C. NDP has initiated four reviews of the workers compensation system that COCA is watching closely. He believes the outcome of the reviews could have a major impact.
“It has been an active year and I suspect it will be busier in 2020 because of the reviews going on and the new WorkSafeBC president,” he said.