A recent amendment to Quebec’s labour relations act allows educational and health care facilities, charitable organizations and some small landlords and businesses to rely on unpaid help for minor building upkeep and repair. Previously, provincial construction industry regulations prohibited voluntary work.
Now, certified tradespersons can provide services free of charge to a registered charity or within a dwelling they occupy or intend to occupy in the future. Volunteers who are not certified construction workers can perform tasks such as painting and finishing of interior furnishings in a few specified scenarios.
In the multi-residential sector, this includes small rental complexes with up to four units if the owner lives in the building, co-ownership buildings of up to four units and cooperative housing buildings of any size. Public and private schools, colleges, universities, facilities related to health and social services, cooperative daycare centres and commercial businesses with fewer than 10 employees are also eligible.
Neither Quebec’s largest rental housing association nor public sector union is happy with the change. CORPIQ (Corporation des propriétaires immobiliers du Québec) estimates about 150,000 duplex, triplex or quadruplex dwellings are excluded because the owners live off-site, while the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) questions why the legislation still prevents public sector building managers from assigning their own part-time staff to the tasks.
“At present, only permanent employees can do maintenance work,” observes Denis Bolduc, president of CUPE-Québec. “The government is prohibiting our members from doing it, but giving its permission to volunteers. It’s absurd.”
CORPIQ likewise calls it “paradoxical” that many small landlords cannot undertake tasks in their own buildings that they could do as volunteers in a housing co-op. During last year’s public consultation on the amendment, CORPIQ had lobbied for the inclusion of rental housing up to six units, noting that insurers and lenders do not classify such buildings as businesses.
Quebec’s allowable rent increases for renovations equate to a 41-year payback, while market wages for certified contractors are in the range of $70 to $80 per hour. In that light, CORPIQ suggests volunteers should be able to conduct more types of maintenance and building upkeep than the new rules allow.
“CORPIQ was, and remains, in agreement with requiring certified workers for safety-related jobs such as gas, plumbing, electricity and carpentry,” says Hans Brouillette, the association’s director of public affairs. “But where’s the logic that an owner can change a bedroom door, but not an entry door?”
Meanwhile, small landlords who are themselves certified tradespersons can only do wiring, plumbing, gas-fitting or carpentry within the units they personally occupy. “Yet, these same certificate holders, who can’t work for free on their own buildings, can do volunteer work for a charity,” Brouillette adds.