The Ontario government has passed Bill 47, Making Ontario Open for Business Act, which repeals much of the previous Liberal government’s Bill 148 Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.
Here is a quick review of how this legislation will affect Ontario’s construction industry and why it’s happening.
- A new 1:1 journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio for all trades that are subject to ratios
- No more trade classification reviews which could turn voluntary trades into compulsory trades
- The Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) will be wound down in 2019
The previous government legislated extensive worker protections, which they claimed would shield vulnerable workers. The new government hopes that a more business-friendly approach (less regulated, less red tape) will increase employment opportunities.
Employers have demanded flexibility to address skilled trades’ shortages. The legislation will also prevent further trade classification (i.e., more compulsory trades). Businesses say classification and burdensome ratios affect their ability to hire and train more apprentices.
What’s not changing?
Trade school curriculum and today’s 23 compulsory trades remain. There’s been no mention of trades fees. We expect fees to continue, perhaps as they were prior to OCOT.
The government plans an orderly transition out of OCOT by early 2019. It promises what replaces OCOT will improve trades promotion, access to apprenticeships, navigation through the apprenticeship system, and completion rates.
CLAC has some concerns as the government moves forward with its plan to phase out OCOT. We are recommending the following measures.
Preserve what works
OCOT’s intent to professionalize trades and keep regulation away from political interference is worthwhile. As with other professional occupations, a self-regulated college had the potential to better engage tradespeople in decision-making and standard-setting. Unfortunately, OCOT’s governance structure became politicized and its mandate (enforce, promote, support) proved unmanageable. A new agency with clearer focus could protect tradespeople from special interests—government and unions included—and truly support apprentices.
The legacy database and public registry of OCOT are worth maintaining. Worker credentials are invaluable information that protect consumers and employers from false worker declarations. It also enhances the value of workers whose credentials are verifiable.
The 45 trade compliance officers should continue to enforce ratios and credentials on site.
Abandon what’s failed
If the college was “by the trades for the trades,” it missed in focus and in delivery. Assigning labour roles almost exclusively to the cabal of Building Trades Unions was political. The resulting trade regulation promoted that union model. OCOT should have improved the apprenticeship system’s efficacy of training and completions, plus promoted trades, protected the public, and secured worker safety. Instead, debate over ratios and trade classifications continued to focus on controlling labour supply, wage security, and promotion of union training programs.
OCOT’s muscle-flexing in enforcing trade requirements and ratios could have focussed on compliance by education, trade promotion, and facilitating entry and apprenticeship progress.
Monitor changes as we move forward
CLAC will continue to monitor the aggregate ratio among CLAC’s members as the industry adjusts to the new 1:1 ratio. Those clamouring for 1:1 have claimed that they are passing on work because of worker shortages and have committed to hiring more apprentices and not to laying off journeypersons. Progressive employers recognize journeypersons as the lifeblood of their firms and won’t succumb to the short term gains of a reduced average hourly wage costs.
Another challenge to monitor will be whether ratio change and the loss of OCOT hurts completion rates. The effective dropout rate is more than 60 percent. Of 20,000 apprentices who signed on to OCOT five and a half years ago, only 6,000 have completed their apprenticeships. That failure belongs to all stakeholders, not just OCOT. Adding more new entrants risks more failure unless government and stakeholders make needed systemic and cultural changes.
We must also watch trade school capacity. There are regional shortages now; additional classroom seats must be made available to alleviate the backlog of apprentices waiting for school terms. The government must enable the ratio increase with funding for seats and school infrastructure.
In summary, changes were needed to increase entry to the trades and because OCOT had become a bloated and biased bureaucracy. In its wake, however, CLAC must ensure that the concerns and insights of our members are part of OCOT’s replacement. Whatever form apprentice and journeyperson regulation takes, it needs to listen to the voice of tradespersons in the alternative labour movement. CLAC will lobby hard to ensure that our members are heard.