James Barry, Executive Chairman of IBEW CCO, Responds to Questions About Bill 47

What do you think of Bill 47 introduced by the Ontario government on Oct. 23, 2018?

safety glasses, helmet, and work bootsWe are currently reviewing the Bill to fully understand the implications, but I can say that we hope the IBEW and our partners the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario will be part of any discussions concerning the modernization of apprenticeship. With more than 17,000 certified electricians, power line technicians, communication technicians and apprentices in Ontario, the IBEW has the experience, knowledge and track record to understand how to achieve completion for an apprentice.

IBEW apprentices have among – if not the highest – completion rates in the province at more than 95 per cent. As well, statistics from the Ontario Construction Secretariat indicate that apprentices who sign with unions are 30 per cent more likely to complete an apprenticeship.

It’s also critical to note that training and safety are critical to the apprenticeship experience. We encourage the government to ensure that any modernization plan does not include reducing the level of training for a trade like electrician, which involves complex and dangerous work. The public is counting on us to provide safe and reliable services. And taxpayers deserve to have the job done right the first time, and not pay twice because it was done by someone without the proper training.

What do you think about lowering the ratios?

Ratios are very misunderstood. Companies in the electrical trade are already at one to one until the ninth employee is hired. But the far greater issue is the fact that ratios remain meaningless until someone enforces them, and they are site-specific as opposed to company-wide. This will ensure more oversight and protection for the apprentice, other workers, and the public. We hope this government will do what wasn’t done in the past and make those who don’t follow the rules accountable. As far as we are aware, no company was ever charged by the College of Trades for not abiding by ratios, yet we know this was violated on a regular basis.

Why are ratios important?

Ratios are important as it ensures a proper balance of trained journeypersons to apprentices. We want an apprentice to get a range of experiences but also have the oversight and guidance to learn and be safe on the job and successfully complete an apprenticeship, so they become a journeyperson. Once again, it’s the enforcement of ratios and making them site-specific that will be more meaningful.

But aren’t ratios preventing businesses from hiring apprentices?

We have heard that more than 80 per cent of businesses aren’t using their full potential of apprentices so ratios are not a barrier for most of them. As we noted before, when it comes to small electrical shops, the ratio is one to one. We do know that some companies want cheap labour, but our concern is if apprentices aren’t getting the proper training and oversight, those apprentices aren’t going to succeed and will not complete their apprenticeship. We don’t have a skills shortage in the electrical trade, but if we don’t provide apprentices with the necessary training and knowledge they will not complete their apprenticeship, and we may have a shortage down the road as well as more injuries on job sites.

What do you think about the closing of the College of Trades?

The original intent of the College – to promote skilled trades, protect the public and provide self-regulation – was a good one, unfortunately it was mired in politics from the moment it launched, and was unable to achieve its mandate.

Any final comments?

A well-trained and safety-focused workplace is critical to allowing Ontario to ensure it meets its infrastructure needs for the future, sending the signal that this province is not only open for business but is the best place in the world to work and raise a family. We look forward to being part of the discussion.