Under the guise of modernizing apprenticeships and cutting red tape, Ontario’s provincial government recently pushed through a blatantly anti-worker measure that instead will end up putting skilled people out of work and placing workers’ safety at risk.
“Bill 47, the so-called ‘Making Ontario Open for Business Act,’ is actually a gift to open-shop contractors,” said First District International Vice President Tom Reid. “For years, they’ve lobbied for an easier path toward hiring lower-paid, less-skilled workers, and now they have one.”
Until recently, Ontario law required one journeyman be hired for each of the first four apprentices working on a given job site. For electrical workers, the ratio shifted to three journeymen for each of the next three apprentices, then six journeymen for each of the next six apprentices, and finally three journeymen for each apprentice after that.
The Progressive Conservative party gained majority control of Ontario’s government in June following the provincial elections. Party leader Doug Ford, now the province’s premier, introduced Bill 47 partly in response to some contractors’ claims that the ratios were keeping employers from finding apprentices and apprentices from finding jobs.
“What they were really after was maximizing contractors’ profits,” Reid said.
The bill, which was introduced on Oct. 23 and became law via royal assent just four weeks later, immediately altered the required ratio of journeymen to apprentices to 1:1, regardless of trade or of a site’s workforce size.
“And now that employers can bring on helpers or apprentices without proper oversight from trained and certified journeymen, workplace safety becomes a real problem for everyone on the job site,” Reid said.
Bill 47’s passage is a step backward for workers in Ontario’s building trades, Reid said, because reasonable ratios are critical to ensuring the correct balance of apprentices and trained workers.
“This is the beginning of a slippery slope,” he said. “In provinces outside of Ontario, open-shop contractors have been lobbying for ratios as high as three apprentices for every journeyman.”
The IBEW Construction Council of Ontario, which represents more than 17,000 certified electrical workers in the province, notes that more than 95 percent of IBEW apprentices end up completing their apprenticeships.
“But if we don’t provide apprentices with the necessary training, oversight, and knowledge, that percentage might start to fall,” Reid said.
Further, statistics from the Ontario Construction Secretariat show that apprentices who sign with a union are 30 percent more likely to complete an apprenticeship.
“Apprentices need to get a broad range of experiences, but they also need oversight and guidance to learn and be safe on the job and to successfully transition from apprentice to journeyman,” he said. “It’s hard for one journeyman to constantly keep an eye on just one apprentice, because journeyman also have to stay focused on their own work.”
Bill 47 also eliminated Ontario’s College of Trades, a body whose responsibilities included enforcement of trades and worksite ratios. Without the college’s oversight, employers now will find it easier to replace experienced journeymen with apprentices or low-paid helpers, Reid said.
Established in 2013 when Ontario was led by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal Party, the college’s 21-member board of governors has consisted of representatives of the skilled trades and the public at large appointed by an independent council.
The college ensured that trades workers had the proper training and certification to work legally in Ontario. It also maintained a public registry of licensed and certified trades workers, and apprentices were only allowed to work in a trade if they had College of Trades certification and were working with a journeyman.
“Unfortunately, the college was mired in politics from the moment it launched and had trouble achieving its mandate,” Reid said.
Eliminating the college, rather than fixing it, will hurt IBEW’s ability to properly train current and future apprentices. “With Bill 47’s passage, jobs can now be filled by untrained workers, potentially putting themselves and others in danger,” he said.
“The public counts on electricians to provide safe and reliable services,” Reid said. “Taxpayers deserve to have the job done right the first time, and not to pay twice because it was done by someone who wasn’t properly trained.”
Bill 47 calls for the College of Trades to be disbanded within the next few months. “The government intends to develop a replacement model for the regulation of the skilled trades and apprenticeship system in Ontario by early 2019,” the province’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities said in an Oct. 26 news release posted on its website.
In the meantime, the college noted on its own website that it “will work with the government to support an orderly transition of key functions in the coming months and looks forward to providing input on creating a stronger skilled trades system in Ontario.”