People who work in trades with compulsory certification say a provision in the Ontario budget bill would weaken the Ontario College of Trades — and open the door to uncertified labourers taking the work of electricians, plumbers and pipefitters.

There are more than 50,000 workers in the 20 trades covered by the College of Trades.

Brett Maclean is a certified journeyman electrician who works in Ottawa and specializes in fire alarms. 

"That's a life safety system. I need to be qualified," he said. "There's checks and balances to make sure that I can touch the system and no one else can."

'It degrades the safety of my work site.' - Brett Maclean, certified journeyman electrician

Maclean said he completed five years of on-the-job apprenticeship and schooling to get his certification. He's worried that Schedule 17 of Bill 70, Ontario's budget implementation bill, would weaken enforcement that keeps general labourers from doing the work of an electrician, for instance.

"I worked really hard for this certification and now I could potentially lose my job to someone who doesn't have any qualifications at all — and that's really, really scary."

Maclean said he's also worried cheaper, uncertified labour could drive down his wage and endanger his colleagues.

"It degrades the safety of my work site," Maclean said. "If I'm working alongside this person and they don't know what they're doing it puts me at risk."

Weakening the Ontario College of Trades

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is one of the unions organizing a campaign against Schedule 17. John Bourke, business manager for IBEW Local 586, said his members are livid.

"You're looking at the surface of the sun," he said. "I've never seen them this mad."

John Bourke, business manager IBEW Local 586

John Bourke, business manager International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 586, is concerned the Ontario 2016 budget bill will weaken the Ontario College of Trades. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Bourke said the College of Trades was meant to put tradespeople in charge of the rules.

"We wanted to have construction people oversee the construction industry, because we know what's best for us," Bourke said. 

"Just like a doctor does, just like a lawyer does, they all have their associations. So why can't we govern and make policy on behalf of the people who know exactly what they're doing?"

He's worried the Ontario Labour Relations Board will be more lenient about enforcing which duties belong to which trade.

"If you give it to bureaucrats at the Ontario Labour Relations Board — none of them are electricians, none of them have spent any time in the construction industry."

The Ottawa District Labour Council, which represents both certified and uncertified workers, has not taken a position on the bill and is still studying it.

'I don't think the sky is falling'

Ottawa Construction Association president John DeVries said Schedule 17 looks like a return to a more reasonable way of determining who can do what kind of work.

He said there are collective agreements in some parts of the province that allow electricians to work on "mixed crews" with general labourers who dig trenches and lay plastic pipe with conduits in it.

"The labourers will do that dirty work, basic work," he said. "Electricians are there for the pulling of the wire and making the connections — all the stuff that require some safety training."

botched job at LRT

Electrical workers union says this photo from June 2016 is evidence of a botched wiring job on the LRT project in Ottawa. (IBEW)

DeVries said under a more strict definition of an electrician's work, the labourers wouldn't be allowed to do that work even if there was no danger.

​"The college was threatening, with their enforcement, to upend that tradition. And now we're back."

DeVries said he welcome the emphasis on an independent body applying the rules.

"That's to address the concern that came from industry. There was a perception that the college board and their structure was not independent, was over-weighted to go in one direction," he said.

"I don't think the sky is falling, I think a more reasonable approach is coming in."

The Progressive Certified Trades Coalition is meeting in Toronto on Monday to plan their opposition to the budget measure.