Scrapping Ontario College of Trades 'a step backward,' says Unifor

Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy says the Making Ontario Open for Business Act will discourage any incentive for employers to hire qualified workers in favour of cheap labour.

'Skilled labour isn't cheap and cheap labour isn't skilled'

Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy speaks during a news conference, opposing a provincial government decision to abolish the Ontario College of Trades. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

For Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy, the Ford government's decision to abolish the Ontario College of Trades is just a way of getting skilled labourers to work for lesser wages.

"Skilled labour isn't cheap and cheap labour isn't skilled," said Cass​idy during a news conference Friday, surrounded by members of the skilled labour community.

The provincial government unveiled an omnibus legislation Tuesday — called the Making Ontario Open for Business Act — which changes several employment standards.

Among them, it calls for scrapping the Ontario College of Trades, which governs skilled trades and apprenticeships in the province.

Hiring on the cheap

Cassidy said the new bill will discourage any incentive for employers to hire the most qualified people for the job.

"They're going to give these employers all this money up front and they're never going to put [apprentices] through the proper training to get the skilled labour that we need in Ontario," said Cassidy, adding the move is "a step backward."

Cassidy added there are three pillars of education which students can pursue: university, college and apprenticeships — the latter being often forgotten.

Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy says the Ontario College of Trades is crucial in setting safe standards for skilled labour workers. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"The kids that get into skilled trades work. It's because they couldn't get into university. But I can tell you some of the [apprentices of] skilled trades people are pretty good ... Not everybody gets into these apprenticeship programs. It's very tough," he said, adding the move is a perfect example of politics in action.

"We used to have the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Then, for whatever reason, they changed it to MAESD, Ministry of Advanced Education and Skilled Development," he said.

"Now, just because the Liberals changed it to MAESD, the Conservatives don't want that ... My problem is they say they're going to do it early in 2019. It took us a long time to get OCOT moving forward."

He said if teachers and nurses can have their own colleges, "why can't trades have the college of trades?"

Keeping workers safe

Currently, an apprentice can work in a trade as long as they're certified by the college and are working alongside a "journeyperson."

Paul Sousa, who works as a mechanic at the Chrysler assembly plant and sits on the board of governors for the Ontario College of Trades, said abolishing the college would open up the possibility of unqualified workers putting public safety at risk.

"Here's a member who has 7000 hours [of experience] and four years of schooling. And they have another coming up off the street, putting his or her life at risk."

Paul Sousa says getting rid of the Ontario College of Trades would allow employers to hire less-skilled workers at their discretion. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Karl Lovett, business manager of IBEW Local 773, said the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, if enacted in its current form, should be labelled Bill 1947 because "that's what it's going to take us back to."

He added reforming rules which mandate there is one apprentice for every one journeyperson in each trade will threaten the safety of workers.

"This is simply because the employers need to maximize their profit ... Once the employer has the ability to hire an equal number of apprentices or trainees without proper policing, accidents are sure to happen."

Karl Lovett says if workers are being put on skilled labour jobs without proper training, deaths may occur. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"In the industry I represent, the electrical industry, what we'll see is our competition slowly replace the apprentice who becomes a journeyperson with another unskilled trainee or apprentice. This only equates to the likelihood of more accidents.

This isn't the first time the Ontario PC Party called for the abolition of the trades college. In 2014, then-party leader Tim Hudak referred to the regulating body as a job-killing bureaucracy which is "nothing more than a giveaway to the power brokers and union bosses."

with files from The Canadian Press


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