A Holiday Message from Robert Blakely

Dec 24, 2018

Greetings and best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season! Looking back over the year we’ve had, the men and women of the Building Trades have put their craft to work to build, maintain and refurbish the infrastructure of our country. It is the work that you do that has built Canada for more than a century, and it’s the work you’re going to do, and that the children of Canada that dream of driving an excavator or trading in their Legos to build real structures – that will continue to build this country well beyond 2019.

From refurbishing Bruce Power and Darlington nuclear stations, to hydro projects like Muskrat Falls and the Keeyask Hydroelectric Project, to LRT construction and bridge work, to university upgrades, hospital builds, and residential construction from coast to coast to coast, it’s skilled tradesworkers that show up, every day, to use their craft to build this country. These workers, like all workers regardless of their background, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference or age, deserve respect. They deserve respect for the work they do to contribute to the fabric of this country, the stimulus they provide to the economy and the support they give as integral parts of their communities. And each and every one of them deserves respect on the job sites, so they can go to work every day, do what they love, earn a fair and honest wage and be free from any sort of harassment and discrimination.

In a time of #MeToo when light is being shed on the inequalities and barriers that come up against women in all walks of life, we cannot fool ourselves to not call out the issues that arise in the construction industry. By today’s figures, we sit at about four per cent of women that make up the construction industry. This number is low, too low, if we plan to adequately replace the number of baby boomers that are retiring steadily, leaving a gap in the workforce that needs to be filled. In order to fill that, we need to recruit from groups of people that have historically not participated in the construction market. To effectively do this, we need to recognize the very real barriers that exist in getting them involved. To date, through our efforts with Build Together, through government programs and funding and through activism from our clients and employers, steps have been made to ensure “the door is open” to get more women, Indigenous Peoples, new immigrants and youth into the skilled trades. We have language in project labour agreements and community benefit agreements that stipulates designated spaces and hiring practices to encourage a more diverse workforce and to increase the number of apprentices started and given an opportunity at a well-paid, lifelong learning type of career. But the next big hurdle in changing those “four per cent” statistics, is to ensure once a woman, or a minority, sets foot on a job site that they feel safe, respected and can go to work knowing that if faced with harassment, there will be due process to remedy the situation. Today, being frank, this is not the case. Fear of being reprimanded, alienated or worse, stops people from taking action.

Getting into the trade doesn’t tend to be the issue that staying in the trade is. We need to be more than just a bystander. Not sure what you can do to help? Try to get Respectful Workplaces training initiated on your job site or at your training centre. Ask someone that you fear may be being harassed if they’re ok. Call it out when you see it. It’s up to each and every one of us to do better and to be better.

We are the professional stone masons, pipefitters, electricians, welders, crane operators, truck drivers, rigger, insulators, boilermakers, powerline technicians, plasterer, elevator constructors, labourers, painters and glaziers that keep this country moving and have built Canada for over a century. To ensure we continue to build Canada, we need to change the ways we have done things in the past and that means moving beyond the crude lunch trailer jokes to make sure the lunch trailer is comfortable for everyone. That means to not sweep it under the rug and call out the issues that do exist so we can address them, fix them, and truly make the skilled trades open to everyone. And then, we need to get back to the business of building Canada.

2019 is promising to be a busy year, with more infrastructure spending being announced, investments in the energy sector and major projects on the horizon. The LNG project in British Columbia will get well underway next year. We continue to push the government to get a pipeline built to eliminate our dependency on foreign energy and build an infrastructure link that will connect Alberta’s resources with outside markets in a safe, environmentally responsible fashion. We have a federal election coming up where we need to educate ourselves on the issues at hand and elect politicians that understand and respect what we do, and who are willing to work with us to move this country forward. Let’s make 2019 the year when #MeToo is something that only happened before 2018, when every worker feels safe, respected and equal on their job site, and when our work as the builders of this country is recognized and appreciated for the professionals we are.

On behalf of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, the Canadian Executive Board, our staff, and the over half a million members that live, work and build this country, we wish you a safe and healthy holiday season and all the best for 2019.

Robert R. Blakely
Canadian Operating Officer
Canada’s Building Trades Unions