Protecting the Electrical Trade Through a Strong Voice

Message from James Barry, Executive Chairman of the IBEW CCO

The Ontario government has introduced a new framework that will change how trades, including compulsory trades like electrician, are regulated. Bill 100 – the Protecting What Matters Most Act (Budget Measures) 2019 is omnibus legislation which includes Schedule 40, a new statute entitled Modernizing the Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Act (MSTTA). Bill 100 passed third reading and received Royal Assent on May 29, 2019.

The IBEW CCO, along with the ECAO, are leading the way in actively working with government to ensure we protect the integrity of our trade as well as maintain worker and public safety. We have chosen to take a collaborative approach to help educate government on our trade and to work collectively with the industry to ensure we are a strong voice. I am pleased to say we have obtained the endorsement of the Ontario Electrical League and CLAC for our latest commissioned report, which reflects an unprecedented level of representation within our trade for a submission to government.

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We will be releasing this to members and government shortly. This is the second report we have prepared in response to the introduction of the Bill. Please see our first report here.

Below are some questions and answers that address key information in both reports. I encourage you to contact your business manager for any further questions and to find out how you can help. As well, you can see our video on the topic here.

What does Ontario’s new regulatory framework mean for the electrical trade?

The Ontario Government has introduced a new framework that will change how trades including compulsory trades like electrician, are regulated.

This new regulatory framework introduces a skill set model that would allow anyone to do certain elements of work that are currently within the scope of a restricted (compulsory trade).

If a skill set model was imposed for the electrical trade how would this impact public and worker safety?

The statistics speak for themselves. The Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) identified improper installation procedure or lack of hazard assessment as the cause of 50% of electrically related fatalities and critical injuries. According to the ESA, more than three-quarters of electrically related work fatalities were experienced by workers who were not trained as electricians or powerline workers. These are the types of errors that are most likely to be made by workers who are not properly trained in electrical theory or in the Ontario Electrical Safety Code. Three-quarters of electrical fatalities related to work were experienced by workers who were not trained as electricians or powerline workers.

But the ESA’s 2017 report also notes that electrical fatalities and injuries declining?

The reason the statistics have declined is because of an elevation in the training and focus on safety. The great progress we have made in keeping people safe on the job will be lost if we start lowering those standards. You can be assured that the IBEW CCO and the ECAO will not compromise on our training as we believe every worker should feel safe on the job and be able to go home to their family at the end of the day. We will also not compromise on the quality of our work.

How important is the need for theoretical knowledge in every activity in the scope of practice for the electrical trade? There has been a suggestion that individuals could be trained to do certain tasks within that electrical trade without knowing the theory.

The rules of the Ontario Electrical Safety Code are written for people who have a pre-existing knowledge of electricity. To make sense of the Code, an individual must first understand basic electrical concepts.

Learning and understanding electrical theory and the Code are not easy. Indeed, the Colleges report that the highest failure rates among apprentices are in electrical theory and knowledge of the Code.

The current training standard for an Electrician – Construction and Maintenance requires 840 hours of in-school training. An indication of the importance of electrical theory is that 66% of these hours (553 hours or 14 weeks) is focused on electrical theory.

How would a skill set model for the electrical trade reduce the numbers seeking careers in that industry?

The Ontario government wants to attract more people into skilled trades by elevating the value and status of the trade. Their skill set model would have the opposite result.

To attract business and build safe and reliable infrastructure, Ontario must have electricians who are not only trained in the current scope of practice but who will continually upgrade their skills to meet ever-changing technology. Why would someone invest in five years of training to be an electrician if part of that work will now be completed by someone who did not invest the time in training or pass an exam to prove their competence. Why would someone invest the time in certification if it means they will be working with people who don’t understand electrical systems and the work may be done improperly creating risk of injury or death. Why would they invest in such a career if there will be fewer jobs because anyone will be allowed to do a variety of tasks within their trade.

Making Ontario Open for Business should not be about creating profits for businesses who prefer cheap labour at the expense of safety and quality work. Do we really want those companies building our infrastructure? How will our economy prosper if we have no one to do the complex work that is essential to maintain reliable and safe power. Hospitals, airport, schools, businesses all count on the expertise of trained electricians. We are hopeful that government agrees.

The Red Seal is seen as the gold standard for all trades. How will this new model impact that?

Industry-validated competency standards are the basis for Red Seal designation. Establishing a lower standard or parcelling out a trade discards the advice of the experts in the industry. The Red Seal designation ensures that Ontario-trained tradespersons will have their competency recognized everywhere in Canada. This has been an important objective of every Ontario government. It should not be set aside.

Why is it important for government to listen to your advice?

As leaders in training, the IBEW and ECAO have the experience and knowledge to help the government with its reforms. Our apprentices have the highest completion rate in the industry ranging from 95 – 98 per cent. That is significantly higher than in the non-union sector where it is about one third that number. If the government wants to ensure they have a skilled workforce for the future then we believe we have the experience and knowledge to help them create a model for training that works.

What do you think about the decision to close the Ontario College of Trades?

We supported the decision to close down the College. The model was flawed due to its size and to the fact it was politicized. We will continue to support the notion that an industry-led system is still the key to success.

What other advice are you offering government?

We believe the continuation of the current scope of practice and a restricted skill set is necessary for the electrical trade. This policy has ensured high standards of safety. If changes are to be made, these changes should only be made after broad consultations with a number of stakeholders including those who actually do the work.