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Manitoba construction associations continue plea for consultation on major apprenticeship changes

Grant Cameron
Manitoba construction associations continue plea for consultation on major apprenticeship changes

Employers and building trade unions from the ICI construction industry in Manitoba have teamed up to object to substantive regulatory changes that are about to be introduced to the apprenticeship system in the province.

Specifically, they are against changes that will increase the allowable ratio of apprentices to journeypersons from 1:1 to 2:1 because it will have significant impacts for the trainees and skilled trades.

They also oppose removing the gasfitter certification from the piping trades as it will result in more seasonal unemployment for those in the mechanical trades, reduce safety, and cause higher construction costs.

Five organizations that are responsible for all vertical infrastructure in Manitoba recently sent a letter to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister asking that he exercise cabinet discretion and provide for a suitable time period to allow for appropriate consultation with the industry.

The organizations include the Manitoba Building Trades, Construction Labour Relations Association of Manitoba, Mechanical Contractors Association of Manitoba, Construction Association of Rural Manitoba and the Winnipeg Construction Association.

“Our industry deserves more consultation and opportunity for input than an ambiguous and unreliable random survey,” the organizations say in their letter to the premier. “Our industry can not be subjected to policy changes through a process that neither inspires confidence nor addresses the legitimate interest of an important business constituency that employs many thousands of Manitobans.”

The organizations want a delay in implementation so that appropriate adjustments to the new regulatory changes can be made.

“We respectfully seek your assistance in addressing an important issue and hope you will create an opportunity for business, labour and government to improve upon what is already Canada’s best apprenticeship system,” they say.

The organizations state they are not opposed to change and, in fact, welcome considered and thoughtful changes that would improve the apprenticeship system and create more economic opportunities.

However, the manner in which the changes have been introduced and validated by Apprenticeship Manitoba has the organizations deeply concerned.

They maintain Apprenticeship Manitoba used an innocuous and poorly publicized survey to justify regulatory changes that have left the industry facing significant disruption with little opportunity for meaningful consultation. The survey in question achieved an insignificant four-per-cent response in favour of making the regulatory changes and used the “non-industry mandate” as justification, they say.

The organizations had originally written to Economic Development and Training Minister Ralph Eichler and asked him to put a hold on the change while he worked with the industry to review the possible solutions that are available. They also met with Eichler in early March but were told in a follow up letter from Economic Development and Training Deputy Minister Tracey Maconachie that the changes are set.

However, amendments regarding the removal of the gasfitter certification were not final, so the organizations were advised to send a description of their objections, why they are needed, potential implications, and a proposed timeline to Harvey Miller, chair of the Manitoba Apprenticeship and Certification Board.

In a briefing note, the organizations stated in 2009 the industry determined that gas certification should be embedded within the piping trades to address issues of safety and meet the demands of the marketplace.

In 2019, however, Apprenticeship Manitoba circulated a stakeholder consultation posing questions related to the removal of gasfitter certification from the piping trades and later provided regulatory amendment recommendations to remove the second level of gasfitter B certification as a fifth-year requirement to obtaining journeyperson status in each of the piping trades. The recommendations were accepted.

Industry associations representing a cross spectrum of employers and tradespeople have maintained throughout the development of the regulatory amendments that gasfitter certification should not be removed from the piping trades.

The briefing note states the Manitoba market requires cross-training of its plumbers refrigeration techs and steamfitters to support full-time year-round employment and that deskilling through removing the gasfitting certification will result in more unemployment –the same issues which prompted changes in 2009.

The organizations maintain if gasfitting certification is removed, multiple tradespeople will have to be used to complete work that, in the past, was completed by one and therefore construction will be more expensive.

Meanwhile, the organizations state, the trades will suffer because apprentices will get a false sense of security when they achieve journeyperson status and experience seasonal unemployment, which will result in decreased job satisfaction, and productivity of the general mechanical labour market will decrease.

History has demonstrated that returning to school for a gasfitter certification is not attractive to journeypersons, even with the benefits of an increase in pay, the brief states. And, without the requirement of dual certification built into the system, industry will re-experience a shortage of gasfitters.

The removal of gasfitter certification from the piping trades will not benefit Manitobans, states the brief.

“The deskilling of our labour force negatively impacts employability as well as creates a safety risk or drives up costs to consumers. Further, removing the stabilizing forces of year-round employment makes the piping trades less attractive, reduces job satisfaction and has a negative impact on labour productivity.”

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