Ontario College of Trades: What is happening with the Dean Review recommendations?

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UPDATE: The provincial government has shifted jurisdictional and scope-of-work enforcement responsibility for the OCOT to the Ministry of Labour, reflecting the Dean Report recommendations and probably satisfying the Labourers’ Union concerns about jurisdictional issues. See related story.

Certified trades winning ground in lobbying about jurisdictional, enforcement and scope-of-work issues

The provincial government is listening to calls for revisions to Tony Dean’s recommendations about the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) to accommodate concerns of certified trades. This decision will likely anger the Labourers’ Union – stirring the possibility of labour unrest and significant job-site jurisdictional conflict once the revisions are announced and implemented at an as-yet-undetermined date.

Dean released his OCOT review in late November, 2015, and the government immediately issued a news release saying it had accepted his recommendations and would be enacting enabling legislation this spring.

However the implementation announcement has been deferred to an indefinite date – and the Progressive Certified Trades Coalition (PCTC) –- representing electricians, plumbers, and pipefitters among other certified trades – is stepping up its lobbying campaign to alter some of Dean’s key recommendations.

“The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) continues to work on an implementation plan to transform Mr. Dean’s recommendations into effective policy which ensures the sustainability of College and regulation of the trades in the public interest,” a MTCU spokesperson said in a statement. “The ministry continues to work in partnership with the College and trade stakeholders to move forward with changes that will help the College remain strong and sustainable.”

In a pre-election promise two years ago, spurred in part by complaints by the Labourers’ Union and several non-union employers about the OCOT’s compulsory certification process and its enforcement of job-site jurisdictional issues formerly overseen by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (ORLB), premier Kathleen Wynne announced that the OCOT’s compulsory certification and jurisdictional enforcement process would be put on hold and Dean would complete a comprehensive review of the new organization.

After Dean’s multi-month review and the government’s initial announcement late last year, most stakeholders expressed support for Dean’s recommendations, but the certified trades – including electricians and pipe trades – cried fowl.
Their concern: Dean proposed that jurisdictional issues be heard by the ORLB, which had, according to the Labourers’ Union, over the years developed guidelines and respected traditional relationships in determining who should do what work, and when.

The Labourers’ Union had been up in arms about the OCOT when inspectors started ticketing its members for doing traditionally-handled job-site work that the inspectors deemed to be within the certified trades’ scopes.

Dean’s recommendations to restore the OLRB as the enforcement mechanism rankled the certified trades.

Certification regulation “has nothing to do with labour relations” but relates to job-site and consumer safety and whether the work is truly being done by properly qualified tradespeople, said John Grimshaw, executive secretary treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Construction Council of Ontario, one of PCTC’s spokespersons.

Grimshaw said, before the OCOT started enforcing the certification rules, the MTCU didn’t really have the resources to ensure that the certified trades were done by properly qualified workers. “We wanted to finally see some real and expected enforcement.”

He said there are many aspects of a certified trade’s work that require extensive knowledge and training, and that seemingly simple superficial tasks can have severe long-range safety implications.

Grimshaw said the enforcement/adjudication process was one of three issues among Dean’s 31 recommendations that caused concern for the certified trades.

He said the second Dean recommendation the PCTC opposed was that independent, non-trades adjudicators should have responsibility for determining the certified trades’ scopes of practice.

Changing the rules so decisions are made “by people not affiliated with the trades, who don’t know anything about my trade, about how it works or why,” could result in dangerous circumstances, Grimshaw said.

“If I was to put pipe down and screw it to a ground cable, and that cable is made of copper, and the bolt is galvanized, if you don’t put compound on it to stop the ionization of the two metals, there could be a short to the ground,” he said. “This is one of thousands of things that others don’t know about the trade, which we need to understand.”

Finally, Grimshaw said Dean called for “a limited scope of practice for some trades to be compulsory,” separating a “core skill set” from the trade’s entire scope of practice. This would result circumstances where unqualified people “who don’t have all the training” and don’t appreciate the interconnection of systems, completing work that could be dangerous both to fellow workers and the pubic-at-large, he said.

It is unclear how the provincial government plans to respond to PCTC’s recommendations and a ministry spokesperson said it has heard from other organizations, as well, in developing its Dean Review implementation strategy.

Grimshaw indicated that the PCTC has not focused on the OCOT’s contentious policies and processes regarding establishing the rules for compulsory certification, which caused much concern among employers and the labourers, as the Carpenters’ Union pushed forward with its lobby for general carpentry’s certification.

However, the Labourers’ Union is concerned about the direction the government is taking in listening to the certified trades.

The certified trades put their perspectives forward in public consultations with Dean and he “didn’t find these arguments persuasive,” said Jason Ottey, representing Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 183.

“The recommendations tried to resolve some of the substantial issues of the College while preserving a balance from a policy point of view and a stakeholder point,” Ottey said.

“If the government is making amendments to the Dean recommendations in response to the certified trades concerns, that is a real concern to Local 183,” he said. “It makes us question what is the point of Dean.”

“The government is not living up to its commitments to adopt Dean’s recommendations fully.”

Government officials, meanwhile, were oblique in their response to questions about which changes may be made to Dean’s recommendations, while indicating that there will be changes. In other words, Dean’s recommendations will not be implemented exactly as he proposed and the government does not appear likely to announce the implementation legislation this spring (as the government had indicated in its initial announcement.)

“It is the ministry’s intention to move forward with legislation upon completion of the policy work and implementation planning,” a MTCU spokesperson wrote. “We hope to move forward as quickly as possible.”

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