Members of the certified trades were out in force at Queen’s Park recently to protest proposed changes to the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act introduced in Bill 70 that they say will erode the compulsory trades and endanger lives in the province.
The Nov. 30 protest, attended by an estimated 4,000 workers, was called by the Progressive Certified Trades Coalition (PCTC), representing the pipe trades, electrical contractors and workers, sheet metal contractors and workers, roofers and automatic sprinkler contractors and fitters, among others.
Bill 70 was introduced on Nov. 23. Under the proposed Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) reforms, enforcement of scopes of practice issues would come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labour (MOL) and appeals will be heard by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) instead of a justice of the peace. The proposals come a full year after consultant Tony Dean issued his sweeping report offering 31 recommendations for OCOT reform.
PCTC leaders James Hogarth, business manager of the Ontario Pipe Trades Council, and John Grimshaw, executive secretary treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Council of Ontario, said the amendments would lead to workers in noncompulsory trades taking on work that should properly be done by the compulsory trades.
"You have the College of Trades, why look outside of that mandate?" asked Hogarth. "It's unfortunate what is happening to the trades, specifically the compulsory trades."
Their analysis was rejected by Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn.
"Their concerns are unfounded," said Flynn. "It is my own personal opinion as the minister of labour that they are getting some very bad advice on this issue."
Currently, appeals to ticketed infractions, such as when an inspector visits a worksite and determines that workers are doing work for which they are not trained, are heard by a justice of the peace.
Hogarth and Grimshaw argue that the OLRB would make decisions not based solely on scopes of practice prescriptions, as would a justice of the peace, but rather on a variety of considerations including long-developed OLRB jurisprudence on disputes between unions on new guidelines that include risk of harm — which means different things to different people, they said — and on other "relevant issues."
"Scopes of practice has to be number one," said Hogarth. "The Ontario College of Trades has to be what you look at. Don't look at other irrelevant factors that someone who doesn't know the industry takes into account."
Grimshaw said OLRB adjudicators will not be thinking of the long-term integrity of but rather "whether or not an employer thinks it's cheaper to let a labourer do the work and he looks at it and says, 'no big deal, anybody can do that.'"
He added, "If you are going to get untrained, unskilled workers to do bits and pieces of the system, it makes it a weaker link, that's no good. That's how good your system is, it's the weakest link."
Flynn expressed frustration with the PCTC interpretations.
"I don't think the skilled trades understand what we're saying here," he said.
"The very first sentence that the OLRB has to look at, and it isn't a 'could' or 'perhaps' or 'should,' it is very specific that the OLRB has to look at the scopes of practice. The very first thing that is written. So for anyone to say that the scopes of practice will not be enforced, scopes of practice will be enforced better than they were before because it is specifically outlined in the bill."
Risk of harm considerations, which the PCTC leaders argued would further create ambiguities that would open the door for nonskilled trades, will also ensure scopes of practice are protected, Flynn said.
"What risk of harm means is risk of harm to you, doing the work right now, the risk to your colleagues, and also the risk of harm to the public in the future," he said.
As for "other relevant issues," Flynn said that is a common phrase in adjudication that would let OLRB adjudicators take a site visit, for example.
"I wouldn't expect a justice of the peace to have any knowledge of the scopes of practice, so it was determined that the better place to send it would be the OLRB," he said.
Grimshaw said over time construction stakeholders have suggested a third option for dealing with appeals but the MOL has never expressed any enthusiasm for it.
"We told them that the OLRB was the wrong place to do this," said Grimshaw. "If you look at all the other colleges, they all have their arm's-length committees or panels to deal with disputes, to deal with discipline, all of that stuff. That's all we wanted was the same thing."
The Coalition of Non-Compulsory Construction Trades of Ontario also challenged the PCTC contentions, in a release issued Dec. 1.
"The reason certain trades oppose Bill 70 is that they will no longer be able to use the Ontario College of Trades as a vehicle to displace workers who belong to the non-compulsory trades," said Joseph Maloney, a boilermakers union executive, in the statement.
"For the certified trades to say the other trades are unsafe is not only untrue, but is fear-mongering at its finest."
Both Flynn and the PCTC leaders said there was an opportunity to achieve common ground through amendments proposed by a PCTC lawyer, but time is short. The deadline for proposed amendments was noon Dec. 2, Flynn said, and there would be a day of committee hearings the week of Dec. 5. Flynn said it was possible that the budget bill would be given third reading in the house before the final day of the fall session, Dec. 8.