Construction stakeholders have expressed optimism that new inspectors hired this fall by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) will resume effective enforcement of trades compliance after a two-year-plus hiatus in serious enforcement by College of Trades (OCOT) inspectors.
But that hope is mixed with skepticism. Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario business manager Patrick Dillon lamented that Premier Doug Ford “blew up” OCOT in 2018 with no consultation with the skilled trades and said, “It’s difficult to predict what will happen in the future.”
“So three years later, they’re going to start enforcement? I have my reservations about that, that they intend to do legitimate enforcement and protect the scopes of practice of the respective trades.”
In recent years OCOT’s compliance and enforcement policy was revised to focus on education and compliance assistance. Observers said that OCOT inspectors haven’t written a compliance ticket since 2018, when the Ford government announced its intention to wind OCOT down.
Under Bill 288, the Building Opportunities in the Skilled Trades Act, which established Skilled Trades Ontario (STO) as the new agency to replace OCOT, enforcement will be handed to the newly trained MLTSD inspectors when STO is officially launched in January.
“The issue of enforcement of the compulsory trades occupational licensing has been a significant problem for many years. This is nothing new,” said James Barry, executive secretary treasurer of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario, referring to the lack of enforcement. “Safety in the electrical industry is paramount and enforcement of compulsory trade licensing should be taken far more seriously than it has been for the safety of both the worker and the public or private sector entity getting the work done.”
Thirty OCOT inspectors received layoff notices in November. MLTSD spokesperson Harry Godfrey said in a statement that the new inspectors are being trained to undertake a significantly broader set of duties than the OCOT inspectors’ responsibilities.
STO “will be nimbler and more responsive,” said Godfrey. “It has the widespread support of trade unions, industry leaders, employers and training partners.
“As part of these changes, our ministry has hired 100 new health and safety inspectors, which is three times the number of the current OCOT inspectors. In addition to assuming their additional duties under STO, ministry inspectors must have the skills and knowledge to enforce the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Employment Standards Act and countless other workplace standards and legislations.”
With the new hires, there is now a roster of 500 inspectors.
Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations, said he is not aware of any incidents resulting from the lack of enforcement in recent years.
“The level of inspection is unlikely to increase for at least several months,” he commented. “Skilled Trades Ontario will have to figure out the direction it will take and the ministry’s health and safety inspectors will have to be trained. So inspections could in fact decrease in the next while.”
Cunningham said OCOT’s enforcement had been “heavy-handed” and Godfrey noted there had been politicization of OCOT, and as a result the Ford government felt it had to be replaced.
“Instead of being a fair and balanced regulator, they used their power to cater to special interests, which is why our government stepped in to improve the system for everyone,” said Godfrey.
Addressing the layoff of OCOT inspectors, Godfrey said, “Our ministry hires the best candidates for the positions we have available.”
The OCOT inspectors’ union, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), did not return a request for comments. Dillon said, “I think they got a raw deal for sure.”
Barry said too many unregistered workers are performing electrical work for “countless unscrupulous employers,” and so enforcement of certification should be a priority of STO inspectors.
“I’m hopeful that under the guidance of Minister (Monte) McNaughton and the new STO…it will take seriously the importance of compliance and enforcement which is contemplated in Bill 288,” he said.
Dillon said despite his criticisms of the way the Ford government handled the dismantling of OCOT, he felt the new STO could be a success if there was collaboration between the various stakeholders.
“I would hope that the new Skilled Trades Ontario and inspectorate are successful in delivering trades training, which impacts on health and safety,’ he said.
“They have got to get the scopes of practice right. We need to focus on attracting and retaining the future workforce. The success of that is all dependent on the moves that are made now with the Skilled Trades Ontario and the new board.”
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