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Comment: B.C. needs legislation that requires construction payments to be prompt

Why should anyone have to wait to be paid for completed work?
B.C.’s construction companies and workers need to be paid on time. TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by the president of the B.C. Construction Association.

British Columbians are not being paid on time for completed work in the construction sector.

The province is racing towards an election this year. Premier David Eby and his cabinet are working to complete important priorities this spring in advance of a writ period.

Cost of living and fairness for workers are central themes of this government and are at the forefront of many British Columbians’ minds. Construction workers are no exception.

To do justice in these areas, Eby must work to advance and enact prompt-payment legislation for the construction industry: the culmination of several years of commitments and engagement.

Why should anyone have to wait to be paid for completed work? With soaring affordability concerns and many people living paycheque to paycheque, it’s unfathomable that those who build B.C.’s homes and hospitals are not being paid on time.

A 2023 construction industry survey found that 82 per cent of contractors have dealt with late or delayed payments for finished work. Ninety-two per cent of construction employers have fewer than 20 employees.

Imagine any other sector in our province with such a high proportion of small business owners being told to wait to get paid for a job well done.

This is the problem that prompt-payment legislation would resolve. It would set forth that those who build B.C. should not have to wait to be paid.

They should not be forced to bear unfair risk, interest charges, legal fees, and inflation cutting into their operating budgets. Their employees should not feel the impact of layoffs, job insecurity, or missed training opportunities because of a failure in the system that places everyone at risk.

Uncertainty within the construction pyramid is debilitating. Prompt-payment legislation would compel a more competitive landscape, where all players would be required to play by the same rules.

This payment certainty would usher in the added benefit of more competitive pricing, as a primary element of payment risk would be removed from the bidding equation.

Finally, it would allow small business owners to complete a project and move to the next one, confident in the knowledge that by being paid on time, they will have the operating funds ready to invest, rather than having to borrow against money owed to them.

A recent report by the Sage Policy Group found that B.C.’s lack of prompt-payment legislation heavily impacts companies with 20 employees or less. These small businesses often have to enter into protracted contract disputes to settle late payments.

Imagine a plumbing company with six employees, working on a new health-care project in its community. The plumbers finished the work they were subcontracted for months ago. They delivered the project on time and according to agreed-upon specifications.

Despite this, the business owners have not received payment. Having had to wait so long, they face the burden of fronting their payroll obligations and covering the monthly costs of running their business.

This is the reality hundreds, if not thousands, of small, medium and large construction businesses face every day.

The federal government and almost every other major province have either enacted or significantly advanced plans to enact prompt-payment legislation.

Ontario’s legislation came into effect nearly five years ago. Since then, that province’s construction workers have seen major changes in how they are compensated for their work.

While, in Ontario, payment has been fair and punctual for the past five years, B.C. is falling further behind. British Columbia’s government is failing to protect the construction industry.

So, back to this year’s election and Eby. Our meetings with the premier and his government have been encouraging. Our hope is that words will translate into action.

Prompt payment needs to be an election commitment. The hundreds of thousands who depend upon this industry are counting on it.

We have the data, we have broad industry support, and we have the roadmap and the path to make payment certainty a reality for the people in the construction sector. What we need is action from our government.

If this is a government that truly works for all, let it not forget those who build British Columbia.

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