Skilled trades workers also hit by Ford drive to favour the rich


DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE BUILDING TRADES. Doug Ford hasn’t. The Ontario premier has it in for them every bit as much as he does for Ontario teachers, nurses and health care workers. For the exact same reasons.
Ford wants to favour the rich: any way he can and any where he can. No one is safe: not teachers, not nurses, not public service workers—and not construction workers.

Ford changed the law regulating how apprentices get their journeyman papers in Ontario. The changes will allow big time contractors to hire more apprentices at lower pay. The contractors love it. Workers in the “building trades” not so much.

Double damage

The changes will do double damage to construction workers: first, to the job security of fully skilled journeyman trades workers; second, to the safety of the apprentices themselves.

The old law tied an employer’s ability to train apprentices to the number of journeypersons in their employ. The Ford changes lowered that standard so that all journeyperson‐to‐apprentice ratios are now “one-to-one” for the 33 construction trades that are subject to ratios.

Big time builders were ecstatic. J.G Burtch, owner of Construction Enterprises Ltd. bragged to the Ontario Home Builders Association, “I can hire three journeymen AND three apprentices!” This opens the possibility for contractors to double their workforce without coming close to doubling their wage bill. Apprentice wages are low—sometimes only 30% of the rate paid to qualified red-seal tradespeople.

Plus, apprentices are expendable. Their value on the job is low and they are easy to replace.

There is nothing new here. University of British Columbia professor John Meredith points out, “Apprentices have been used as cheap labour since the days of the medieval guilds.”

Experienced workers under threat

John Bourke is the business manager for IBEW (Internatioal Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 586, in Ottawa. He says if contractors are allowed to hire more apprentices it will lead to massive layoffs for the qualified and experienced electricians and other trades.

He says the one-apprentice to one-journeyman ratio is like having 50% student teachers and 50% qualified teachers in schools.

“When those teachers graduated there wouldn’t wouldn’t be enough jobs. Apprentices are learning the trade on the job from journeyman, so there is a direct correlation to the Ford government’s ending of class size limits in schools.”

Human cost is the real question

Laird Cronk says when you reduce the ratio of journeymen to apprentices, “there is an obvious correlation between that and an increased risk of injuries.” Cronk is president of the B.C Federation of Labour. He worked in the trades for 33 years as a “red seal” electrician.  

There’s no question allowing more apprentices on the job is a big cost-saving for the industry, says Cronk. “The real question,” he says, “is what is the human cost?”  

The human cost in British Columbia is clear and scary. The law in BC does not set any ratio at all on the number of apprentices per journeyman. BC is also the province with the highest rate of injuries in the skilled trades in Canada.

A 2017 study by the BC Federation of Labour found the injury rate for BC tradespeople was nearly four times the injury rate among skilled tradespeople in Ontario.

For James Barry, executive of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario the connection is obvious. “BC has the worst safety record and no ratios.”

Unions carry on

For John Bourke and IBEW Local 586 in Ottawa the battle continues. “Our job as unions, and me as a business manager, is to make sure that our members are working, no matter what the government of the day does.

“My own personal opinion is that I just ask that the government of the day listen to us and don’t ignore us. If we can improve our employment stats, thats what we need to do.”

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