Cooperatives in the construction sector can play a significant role in creating quality employment for individuals who might otherwise be underemployed or working in the informal or underground economy. This is the case for the worker cooperatives Fourth Pig Worker Co-op and Les Constructions Ensemble both active in the construction sector in Canada. The construction sector in many areas of Canada benefits from high demand but is plagued by a tendency for informal work arrangements. A small private entrepreneur who works in clients’ homes will be very tempted to do only some of the work with invoices and some without invoices with cash payments to avoid taxes. However, when people work in such conditions, they are not covered by health benefits or on-the-job injury protection which would provide wages for time off due to a work injury.
15 May 2015
The Fourth Pig Worker Co-op does green renovations in the Greater Toronto Area, Muskoka Region and the Golden Horseshoe areas of Toronto, Ontario. Although they are in their 7th year of operation and still relatively small, they are able to offer steady work for their six members and employ approximately four other people on temporary contracts, depending on the amount of work they are able to secure. They offer their employees steady work, control over their hours, good wages, health insurance for members, workers’ compensation, vacation pay, and access to unemployment benefits to cover a percentage of lost wages if a person is laid off due to lack of work. As in other worker cooperatives, all employees have a democratic voice in the enterprise as well as a team of co-workers that are invested in it, creating a support network. The fact that workers have a stake in the business as owners and that they work as a team rather than independently ensures that no one worker would be in the position of working for cash.
A special commission in Quebec in the construction sector has shown that large businesses in various municipalities in the province were colluding to raise prices, which is an illegal practice. At the same time, like in Ontario, informal work in construction is rife in that Canadian province. By contrast, Les Constructions Ensemble, a worker cooperative in Quebec operating as a general construction contractor, has become known for its “anti-corruption” stance. They offer an honest price and service; customers receive quality, appropriately priced construction services. They also offer their employees a good work place. Les Constructions Ensemble is a successful cooperative serving as a great example where workers earn wages and work in the formal economy with documented work agreements, regular work, and a quality work environment.