Province looks to crack down on companies using unskilled workers inappropriately

The provincial government is taking steps to cut down on companies using unskilled or unqualified workers for jobs that require qualifications.

Changes target 'a very small subset of companies that are trying to work around the system'

The provincial government is taking steps to cut down on companies using unskilled or unqualified workers for jobs that require qualifications. (Shutterstock / Kuzma)

The provincial government is taking steps to cut down on companies using unskilled or unqualified workers for jobs that require qualifications.

The Liberals introduced amendments to the Apprenticeship and Trades Qualifications Act on Wednesday that, among other things, give more power to enforcement officers and significantly increase the penalties that could be assessed.

Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis said the changes were driven by an advisory group and are intended to ensure work is done properly and safely while increasing deterrents for "a very small subset of companies that are trying to work around the system.

"By using unskilled labour to perform a skilled job, they're reducing the amount of compensation they have to pay out and in turn what they're doing is giving themselves a competitive advantage by not following the rules," the minister told reporters.

Bringing in increased fines

Amendments include increasing the penalty for a conviction from between $5,000 and $10,000 to between $10,000 and $50,000. Enforcement officers will now be allowed to visit a worksite at any time and interfering with their work will be prohibited.

Until now summary offence tickets were one of the few deterrents and, at $927.50, Kousoulis said it wasn't enough. New administrative penalties as high as $5,000 are being added to the act.

The changes are also about ensuring the safety of people working on job sites, said Kousoulis. He pointed to a job site visit in Yarmouth that found four people doing electrical work without certification.

"This happens a lot more than you would expect or think," he said.

Levelling the playing field

Duncan Williams, president of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, said companies that play by the rules can sometimes find themselves at a distinct disadvantage when bidding on work. He's hopeful the changes will address the effect the "underground economy" has in his industry and improve safety.

"Some of those companies that choose that path are competing with companies that invest heavily in safety, training, apprenticeship, equipment, you name it. And they're losing work because of it."

About the Author

Michael Gorman

Reporter

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca