Ontario to make sweeping labour law changes

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By Simon Blake

The Ontario government has announced plans to address journeyman to apprentice ratios and to wind down the College of Trades.

On Oct. 23, Premier Doug Ford’s recently elected Progressive Conservative government introduced Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act. Among other things, the bill will change the journeyman to apprentice ratio across all trades to one-to-one, bringing Ontario in line with most other jurisdictions in North America and addressing a constant complaint from contractors. The long-standing three journeymen for every apprentice requirement prevented many contractors from hiring apprentices and has long been a barrier to entry into an industry that is facing severe skilled worker shortages as many experienced tradesmen retire.

“Today’s news signals the provincial government’s commitment to making Ontario’s skilled trades apprenticeship system more responsive to the needs of the economy, and to addressing a dire labour shortage,” remarked Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC).

“The College has become overly focused on enforcement and regulation, limiting its ability to serve the public interest by attracting and training new tradespeople. The OCC has long advocated for the College to modernize the apprenticeship application system, promote the skilled trades as a viable career option for young people, and revise the journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio framework to create more opportunities within the skilled trades.

“As these reforms were not made, the OCC recommended to dismantle the College and return responsibility for trades regulation to the province,” he added.

The College of Trades was established in 2009 to administer apprenticeships and enforce licensing. Legitimate contractors applauded the College’s efforts to clamp down on renovation contractors and others doing work in the mechanical trades without the appropriate licenses, but they also found themselves targeted at times.

While the changes were welcomed by many in the business community, they are not, for the most part, popular with trade unions.

“The Ontario College of Trades is the amalgamation of years of advocacy and planning by skilled tradespeople of this province. The training, support and oversight of the College are mandatory to ensuring public safety and the future excellence in Ontario trades,” said Dave Cassidy, national skilled trades chairperson for Unifor, one of the country’s largest private sector unions.

Unifor believes that a one-to-on journeyman/apprentice ratio will result in unsafe workplaces. “In practice, this would dramatically decrease the time spent receiving training and could lead to apprentices working alone without any support from a journeyperson.”

The new legislation, which has passed first reading and is expected to come into effect in 2019, makes many other changes to Ontario labour law, including freezing minimum wage at $14 per hour, and is almost a full repeal of the previous Liberal government’s Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017.

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