OCOT Extends Apprenticeship Ratio Review: Stakeholders Disappointed by Delay

The text below was originally published on Ontario Construction Report’s website on May 5, 2018.

There is a response by James Barry below the original article.

electricians installing conduit at construction siteThe Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) has extended the review of journeyperson to apprentice ratios by one year, as it implements the Dean Report recommendations regarding its governance, which caused much controversy during the first round of apprenticeship ratio reviews some three years ago.

Representatives of both sides of the spectrum – employer groups and unions representing workers in certified trades – have expressed frustration with the delay, though from differing perspectives.

Apprentice-to-journeyperson ratios have been a contentious issue since the OCOT’s establishment in 2009; with representatives of organized labour arguing for higher ratios on health and safety grounds, while employers and representatives of non-union organizations advocate for lower ratios, arguing that safety concerns are overplayed and high ratios create artificial barriers to labour force entry.

The current rules generally set a one-to-one ratio for the first apprentice and then upwards of 1-3 for additional workers, but they vary depending on the trade and other criteria.

In the first round of apprentice ratio reviews, there was much teeth gnashing as the review panels’ decisions depended on the ideological composition of its members; an issue that the OCOT hopes to resolve through a new system to select panel members through a more independent roster process.

“While we recognize that the OCOT has a new CEO, its previous leadership had more than enough time to make ratio reviews a priority to improve the process,” Joe Vaccaro, chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA) and chief executive officer of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) said in a statement. “Over the next year we expect that OCOT will create a process consistent with the Tony Dean recommendations that will be more transparent and inclusive for small businesses that want their voice heard. If this happens, we fully expect ratios to be lowered.”

Meanwhile, James Barry, executive director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Council of Ontario (IBEW-CCO) said that the delay “is consistent with the many challenges the OCOT has faced since its inception.

“Another example of a delay can be witnessed with a closer look at the compliance and Enforcement policy,” he said. “This policy was put into effect in June 2017.”

“To date, there has been little to no enforcement across the province of Ontario. It is my understanding that until recently a majority of the divisional and trade boards in the construction sector have not been fully populated.

“This results in not having a quorum and the inability of the College to hold construction sector meetings. In my opinion, this compromises the governance structure within the College and the constructions sector as a whole.

“When the ratio reviews of the electrical trade take place, the IBEW/CCO will make every effort to be actively engaged in the process,” he said. The IBEW represents almost 20,000 members across the province.

In its statement, the OCOT says the delay will allow it to “work with stakeholders to develop a framework that will clarify the broader public policy objectives ratios are intended to achieve, refine how the ratio review process is conducted, and make any needed changes to the criteria for determining appropriate ratios.”

“The framework is being developed in an open and transparent manner that includes input from broad stakeholder consultations beginning in May 2018, an advisory panel, enhanced communications and other opportunities for feedback,” the statement said.

“We’re looking forward to the next round of stakeholder consultations on the framework and process so that when April 2019 arrives we can make both timely and informed decisions,” said George Gritziotis, the OCOT’s CEO and registrar.

The following text was not in the original article on the Ontario Construction Report website.

Full Response by James Barry

OCOT was established with a powerful mandate to enforce the compulsory certification licensing regime. From the very outset it has failed its mandate, which has been very, very disappointing to the IBEW CCO and its members.

Amendments to the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act made last year re-affirmed the mandate of the College to undertake real enforcement. The amendments directed the College to establish and publish a formal, transparent Compliance and Enforcement Policy. The College did exactly that. And the Minister of Labour gave this new Policy his seal of approval. The Policy directed the College to enforce the licensing regime, to enforce journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios, to focus on the underground economy, and to protect young workers.

That was 12 months ago. But the new Policy has been deliberately ignored by the leadership of the College.

Risk of Harm is an elastic concept meant to guide College enforcement activity. The statute requires that the College itself define risk of harm – and the College has done precisely that in its Compliance and Enforcement Policy – a Policy approved by the Minister of Labour.

Nevertheless, the leadership of the College is determined to ignore its own Policy. It wants to stay under the radar and to avoid controversy because it thinks that this is the best way to ensure the survival of the College. IBEW has long maintained, consistent with a risk of harm analysis, that the College must enforce the full scope of practice of each compulsory trade.

The College must be sensitive to immediate risks of harm to tradespeople performing the work of a compulsory trade and also be sensitive to the inherent risk to consumers and the public if any part of, say, an electrical system is not installed by a registered apprentice or a certified red seal electrician.

Achieving a Certificate of Qualification in the electrical trade requires 9,000 hours of on the job training as well as three periods in-class study, training and testing in Ontario’s community college system. As a final step, electricians have to pass rigorous licensing examinations. An important public interest informs and sustains this process. The public interest is protected and risk of harm is avoided only if certified professionals attend to each part of an electrical installation.