Ottawa

Warning issued over 'mess' left by uncertified LRT workers

Unskilled, unlicensed labourers have been performing electrical work on portions of Ottawa's light rail system this spring, prompting complaints, inspections and at least one warning over violations, CBC News has learned.

Inspection at Belfast Yard followed complaints from electricians' union

The Belfast Yard LRT storage and maintenance facility. (IBEW)

Unskilled, unlicensed labourers have been performing electrical work on portions of Ottawa's light rail system this spring, prompting complaints, inspections and at least one warning over violations, CBC News has learned.

The union representing electrical tradespeople said it's concerned public safety is being put at risk and taxpayer money squandered because uncertified labourers are doing the work of licensed tradespeople.

The Ontario College of Trades has confirmed that earlier this spring, work that falls under the scope of electricians was in fact being performed by uncertified labourers at the Ottawa LRT maintenance and storage facility at 805 Belfast Rd., known as Belfast Yard.

In a statement to CBC, the college said enforcement officials investigated on March 22 in response to a complaint that unauthorized workers were fixing PVC pipes used for conduit. The college said its inspectors issued a warning to the foreman overseeing the work.

"College enforcement officers informed the foreman that this work falls under the scopes of practice of certified electricians and [he] was issued a warning that he cannot allow labourers to perform work in the scopes of practice of a compulsory trade, no matter how small the task, or they will be in violation," said Ontario College of Trades spokesperson, Jan O'Driscoll.

Union dissatisfied with response

But the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said it's not satisfied with the response of either the college or the Ministry of Labour to its concerns. (The ministry deferred all CBC's questions on the matter to the college.)

John Bourke of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 586. (CBC)
John Bourke, business manager of IBEW local 586, told CBC he's lodged multiple complaints, most recently on June 6. He said his most serious concern involves grounding and bonding work on segments of the LRT project.

Proper grounding and bonding are part of the safety measures that help prevent people from coming in contact with electrical hazards and being shocked.

"It's an electrical system, so it's a very large part of the safety, for public safety," said Bourke. "The people that are standing on the platforms waiting for a train to come, if there was a fault in there, the grounding wasn't done properly, people can get hurt."

'It was a mess'

Bourke shared photos with CBC of what he described as a botched job at the the Belfast Yard maintenance site.

"It was a mess. They had unqualified people doing it. They had to dig up the road so there's a huge cost factor."
The union representing electrical workers says this photo shows evidence of a botched wiring job by uncertified labourers working on Ottawa's light rail system. (IBEW)

The rules governing this kind of work are written into both the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act and the Ontario Electrical Safety Code, said Bourke.

"That's our jurisdiction. It's not for labourers."

The issue is complicated by the fact that much of the work that was performed by labourers was buried before it was inspected. "A lot of this is underground. That would be all covered up now," Burke said.

O'Driscoll said the college takes these complaints very seriously and will follow up.

"Given the serious nature of these complaints we are continuing to investigate," O'Driscoll said.

In a statement, Rideau Transit Group, the consortium building the LRT project, said it had no knowledge of the warning issued by the college and called statements by the electricians' union "incorrect and misleading."

The Belfast Yard site is also where the city's 34 Alstom Citadis light rail vehicles are being assembled.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On. You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

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