Workers in Prince Edward Island have for years had the lowest wages in the country, and the construction industry is a major contributor to this low wage problem.
According to Statistics Canada, construction is the fifth largest employment sector on the island, with about 8.5% of the province’s jobs in this industry. It is also, when compared to the national average, the worst paid among the top five. Workers’ weekly earnings were 32% below the national average in 2021.
This is double the difference for all industries combined, at 16%.
Sam Sanderson, chief executive of the Construction Association of PEI, said that was changing.
“We’re seeing huge increases on our side with the jobs we’re posting,” Sanderson said.
“In order to attract this new talent, employers are really starting to realize that they need to increase the salary, not only the salary, but also the benefits.”
These increases were driven by strong demand for workers, with around 1,000 vacancies in construction.
A path to higher wages
There has been some catching up ground by the industry over the past two years.
While Islanders’ overall wages were down slightly from 2019, in construction they rose 12% in PEI, compared to 7.8% nationally.
Craig Walsh of the United Food and Commercial Workers sees a faster route to higher wages: more unionized workers.
“In the construction industry, where unionization is very limited, the rates are just terribly low,” Walsh said.
“Most of my tradespeople who are unionized make near or north of $30 an hour.”
Assuming a 40-hour week, the average hourly wage in construction in PEI. is around $25.75.
A multi-year process
There are several reasons for the low rate of unionization in construction, Walsh said.
One is the fragmented nature of the sector. Often, tradespeople in PEI are encouraged to start their own businesses once they earn their qualifications, Walsh said, leading to many small businesses spread across the province. .
Additionally, he said the certification process for a union can take years.
“There are a lot of delays that can be legally imposed on you by the employer, and there seems to be few mechanisms for the labor board to deal with them,” Walsh said.
“Throughout this time, the people who have supported you are either dealing with an employer who is very anti-union at times and has complete control over their day-to-day operations. And then those people will eventually pass, and if the employer knows what he does, he makes sure the new people he hires don’t have any support for the union.”
The Construction Association of PEI takes no position on unionization.
About 13% of the industry is unionized, Sanderson said, and the association encourages members to make jobs, unionized or not, more attractive, with new benefits, better work-life balance as well as pay. higher.
Many non-union businesses in the province offer wages equivalent to union stores, he said.
The industry can only evolve so quickly, Sanderson said. Inflation has raised the price of building materials as wages have risen.
“Customers and owners cannot afford this huge increase in the cost of doing business, on top of the added material costs,” he said.
While Sanderson expects the wage gap to continue to narrow, he said Island wages are unlikely to ever catch up to those offered in parts of Alberta and Ontario. .