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Widespread opposition to Ontario College of Trades membership classes

Kelly Lapointe

Construction industry stakeholders are taking issue with the new classes of membership by the Ontario College of Trades, which will have some authority over skilled trades apprenticeships in the province. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Ontario Construction Employers Coalition weigh in.

The College recently conducted a consultation of proposed regulations for memberships. The Coalition says the responses, available publicly on the College’s website, reveal that 88.1 per cent of the organizations oppose the creation of the proposed new classes of membership.

“The College has the opportunity now to listen and respect the advice and direction given to it by industry. If they choose not to do that, then they’re essentially turning their back on the overwhelming voice of the industry,” said Sean Reid, chair of the Coalition, which is calling for an overhaul or abolition of the College .

The new classes — voluntary tradesworker and compulsory tradesworker are currently identified as “proposed” at the College. They are added to the membership classes of apprentice, journeyperson and employer/sponsor.

Reid said there was no explanation as to why the new classes are needed.

“Nobody in the industry can see why this makes sense.”

A total of 42 organizations, representing both employers and employees, responded specifically to the question related to the creation of these two new classes of membership, with the vast majority of responses coming from organizations representing employees across Ontario, said the Coalition.

In its response, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 894 in Bowmanville stated, “We fail to see how the college, its members or the general public will benefit from the expansion of the classes of membership. The current three classes will adequately suffice for the college’s needs. It seems counterproductive to introduce new classes of membership, especially so since these terms are foreign to the terminology used in the workplace.”

Ron Johnson, governors’ board chair, said the College used these responses to make amendments to the regulation. He reached out to various organizations, like the IBEW, which represented more than a third of respondents.

“We were able to address a lot of their concerns and provided them with some background as we could to help them understand how the membership classifications would work.”

Alex Lolua, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Construction Council of Ontario director of government and public relations, said his organization thought it was easier to stick to the three membership classes already in place for simplicity sake.

“From the compulsory trades perspective, we understood it. Once we received assurances that there was going to be a finite period for the compulsory tradesworker classes and that they would be included in the ratios and protected by the wage rates, most of our concerns were alleviated.”

A working group consisting of members of the Board of Governors reviewed and assessed the approximately 80 submissions with College staff.

“The College, I think, did a very good job of assessing the feedback and then making appropriate changes to the regulation. When changes were not made, there was certainly an effort to explain to a number of organizations that had an interest to get more information. We provided them with whatever information we could,” explained Johnson.

The majority of the submissions took issue with the Registrar’s ability to issue a certificate of qualification to individuals that would not otherwise qualify. This was a main regulation amendment.

Johnson said there needed to be classifications between a voluntary tradesworker and a compulsory tradesworker.

“They’re technically not a journeyperson because they don’t own a CMQ. They’re not an apprentice because they are currently not serving an apprenticeship but they are working so you have to have a place to park these people within your membership structure,” he said of voluntary trades workers.

Lolua said he was pleased that their feedback was taken under consideration.

“It’s a powerful thing when you have the right for self-determination and hopefully people will start to accept it and move forward. Certainly there are differences but it’s time to bury the hatchet and let’s move forward and be responsible for our industries,” he said.

Johnson said despite recent objections from the Coalition, he expects cabinet will approve the regulation in June. He believes the Coalition’s goal is to soil the College.

“I don’t know if there is anything that the Ontario College of Trades will ever do appease this small stakeholder group.”

Coalition members include: Heavy Construction Association of Toronto, Merit Ontario, Ontario Electrical League, Ontario General Contractors Association, Ontario Road Builders Association, Ontario Sewer & Watermain Contractors Association, Progressive Contractors Association of Canada and Residential Construction Council of Ontario.

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