[Op-Ed] Dana Taylor: B.C. needs prompt-payment legislation for contractors

In March, we hosted two Prompt Payment Legislation Info and Inquiry Sessions with presenter Dana M. Taylor, Executive VP and CEO of the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC and acting chairman of Prompt Payment BC. Dana offered a background and overview of industry requests, provided an update on the progress being made with the provincial government, and discussed next steps, such as tools available and how, as industry stakeholders, we can become more involved. He recently released an opinion piece that was published in the Province; that piece is shown below.

The Province  |  DANA TAYLOR  |  July 17, 2018

When was the last time you bought groceries and told Save-On Foods that they would have to wait a couple of months before you would pay them? It would never fly. Trade contractors in British Columbia — those who build the structures in which you live, work, play and study — must also pay their expenses on time. But to get paid for their completed work, they must routinely wait and wait and wait.

Waiting long periods to be paid leads to cash-flow problems for companies that are mostly small- to medium-sized enterprises and are often family-run. Squeezed cash flow discourages hiring, training and investments in productivity improvements such as technologies. Badly needed apprentices are not taken on and business that could grow, don’t.

Because the practice of delaying payment has been going on so long, it has become standard in the construction industry. “Pay-when-paid” contract clauses are now considered normal. The trades are often forced to accept these terms or lose the job.

Construction is a high-risk business and payment delays have the effect of shifting the risk down the chain of payment. Trades end up bearing the burden of financing construction projects. They must build this risk into their bids which drives up the cost of construction. Nationally, as much as $46 billion, at current volumes, remains unpaid past a 30-day period, keeping that money out of economic circulation.

We know general contractors are often waiting to be paid themselves, but shifting payment delays onto the trades means more risk is being taken by the little guys, those likely least able afford to it. All too often, this cash-flow crunch leads to personal hardship, including bankruptcies. If you are a tradesperson, this translates into bounced paycheques and/or absence of benefits like health insurance and pensions.

B.C. needs prompt-payment legislation to ensure contractors and subcontractors are paid in a timely way, within 30 days. It’s only fair. While payment delays are not unique to construction, the impact is significant. Construction represents 8.6 per cent of GPP and nine per cent of the provincial workforce so when construction contractors are not paid, the economy suffers. The issue is, or ought to be, politically neutral because if implemented, everybody wins, including the B.C. economy.

Prompt-payment legislation was adopted provincially in Ontario in December 2017 and is in the process of becoming law in Manitoba. The federal government has announced its intention to introduce legislation related to public projects soon. In other jurisdictions around the world, prompt-payment legislation is well established.

In B.C., the Council of Construction Trades Associations, a coalition of 11 trade associations, has launched Prompt Payment B.C., attracting construction and professional associations and labour together to lobby the provincial government for prompt-payment legislation. There is widespread support on this issue that impacts more than 16,000 trade contractors provincewide.

While the case in support of legislation is clear, a survey is being conducted to collect data in addition to a letter-writing campaign to MLAs. Our position strengthens with more industry participation. If this issue touches you in any way, please go to www.PromptPaymentBC.ca to complete the survey and send off your letter. Even those not in the industry can send a letter. Both actions are quick and easy and will help alert government to the scope of the problem.

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