New study could help build crucial labour source: mobile construction workers


OTTAWA – The financial and social costs associated with working away from home are shackling an important source of labour in Canada’s construction industry, according to new report published by the Construction Sector Council (CSC).

“Mobile workers are generally a dissatisfied group,” says Bob Blakely, CSC labour co-chair and director of Canadian Affairs for the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, “and the construction industry, particularly the industrial sector, could suffer because of it.”

Working Mobile: A Study of Labour Mobility in Canada’s Industrial Construction Sector sheds light on why it is increasingly difficult to attract workers who are willing to follow the work from region to region.

“As the construction industry seeks ways to address the increasing demand for workers on large projects in remote locations,” says Blakely, “the results of this research provide timely and valuable insights that could help to sustain and build upon this crucial labour source.”

Brad Anderson, of the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA) says “the study takes on increasing importance in light of the construction forecasts, compiled earlier this year by the CSC, which indicate that in many provinces tight markets for some trades mean employers and contractors will need to recruit out of the local market.” COAA played a significant role in the development of the Alberta forecast report.

According to the study, the typical mobile worker “is married, with at least two dependents under the age of 18 years, and his working mobile has a net-negative impact on his marriage and family.”

Significant personal expenses either on the job or at home while workers are away is cited as a major potential barrier to working mobile. The report also notes that mobile workers “have significant negative self-esteem and concern about he social status of the skilled trades vis à vis the communities in which they work mobile and in respect of other lines of work.”

The self-esteem of mobile workers is influenced by the attitudes of those in the communities where they work: “….They believe themselves to provide the necessary skill and commitment to build the infrastructure of the nation. But they find they are not regarded with respect by their fellow tradespersons (for whom local work is always preferable). They observe lack of parity with other blue-collar industries (such as truckers and mechanics, who are provided preferential tax consideration by the government). And they find industry leaders tend to treat them as replaceable commodities. Most would not recommend the life to their children.”

Working Mobile is the first study in Canada to look at why workers move to find work and the obstacles to their doing so, as well as the career path of mobile construction workers, including their movements between sectors of the industry and provinces and territories. The research was conducted through on-site surveys and focus groups, and is part of a series of research reports on issues related to the supply of labour in the Canadian construction industry.

Funding for this project was provided by the Government of Canada’s Sector Council Program.

The CSC is a not–for–profit, independent labour/business partnership organization established in 2001, to address the current and future human resource needs of the construction industry in Canada.
For more information on these and other CSC programs:
Michelle Walsh
Manager, Communications
Construction Sector Council
walsh@csc-ca.org
Tel: (613) 569-5552, ext. 230
Fax: (613) 569-1220