The Dean Review: Expect compromise recommendations following extensive industry consultations

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Ontario Construction Report staff writer

Tony Dean’s review of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) has moved to the report-writing stage after extensive consultations across the province with many of the 107 organizations and individuals who had submitted written observations.

The documentation posted on the deanreview.com site indicates the controversy and tension within the industry about the OCOT’s mandate in areas of compulsory certification, enforcement, and scopes of work.

The provincial government implemented the review after Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne imposed a moratorium on compulsory certification decisions following objections from the Labourers’ Union and employer groups after OCOT enforcement officers started ticketing its members for doing the work of certified trades, activities the labourers say they had been doing for years under their collective agreement without any complaints.

Voluminous submissions – especially from the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) reflect these tensions – which employers groups fear may be enhanced if general carpentry becomes a certified trade, something the Carpenters Union has been seeking.

While Dean won’t release his report and recommendations until later this year, David Frame, the Ontario General Contractors’ Association’s (OGCA) director of government relations, says Dean “is clearly listening and understanding the issues that exist” with the OCOT and is “clearly struggling to put together recommendations that the government will be able to accept and fully implement.”

Frame says Dean has said there will be a need for compromise and has indicated in oral hearings that proponents shouldn’t expect to get everything they want. He says “expect to be disappointed in some areas and pleased in others,” Frame said. “He appears to be working on a good old-fashioned Canadian compromise.”

Dean asked industry stakeholders several questions relating to the public interest, scope of practice (SoP), and trade classification issues.

Not surprisingly, the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO) indicates in its submission that the existing OCOT structure is satisfactory, while indicating that enforcement of SoP issues might more appropriately be the Ontario Labour Relations Board’s (OLRB) responsibility.

“We believe jurisdictional issues should continue to be dealt with at the OLRB, and the College should solely focus on the environment of truly relevant training and certification standards for skilled tradespeople,”

The union says the SoP must take into account the key role of the College, that is promoting the professionalization of trades,” the union says. “SoPs should be written in general timers but fully describe all the tasks, activities, and functions in which a tradesperson must be trained. In addition, the SoPs must recognize that there needs to be some flexibility around the context in which the tasks are performed. In this way trades will be comprehensive, rather than fragmented, but common sense interpretation of the Sops will ensure that common work continues to be performed by multiple trades.”

The LiUNA submission, not surprisingly, raises concerns about the OCOT’s systems for setting compulsory certification requirements and asserts the current structure isn’t aligned with the public interest.

“The classification lacks flexibility, does not address labour supply issues and turns occupational standards which should be developed for advancing competency and increasing the umber of skilled tradespersons into unjustified barriers to employment,” LiUNA Local 183 says in its extensive submission.

The union notes that the OCOT’s “classification review process is unusual in that it allows the College to effectively expand its own jurisdiction by classifying trades as compulsory.” Because the OCOT is self-funding, “it has a built-in incentive to expand its membership,” and this sort of processor capacity isn’t found in the other self-regulating professions in Ontario, the LiUNA brief says.

In these matters, the Labourers’ Union has aligned itself with employer groups that have expressed their concerns about the OCOT’s scope, jurisdictional challenges, and potential barriers to workplace flexibility.

Employer groups have gone further, raising other issues, as reflected by the conclusions of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ presentation to Dean, reflecting largely those of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association.

These recommendations include:

1.      That the responsibilities and organizational structure of the OCOT be re-engineered to ensure that in future the college acts in the best interests of Ontario’s Construction Industry.

2.      That the OCOT administration and staff not be affiliated with any special interest groups;

3.      That at a minimum, any new trade certifications require unanimous approval by the responsible Board;

4.      That the ratios required of certified trades be equal to or better than those used in more progressive Canadian provinces;

5.      That the number of board members be better balanced to ensure that voting cannot be controlled by any single special interest group;

6.      That the responsibilities, goals and objectives of the appointed Boards be  reviewed annually for three years to ensure they remain balanced and productive and operate in the best interests of Ontario’s construction industry;

7.      That the renovation sector be exempt from all OCOT requirements;

8.      That all funding for policing of members be terminated;

9.      That the responsibilities of the OCOT be refocused on promoting the trades sector to high school students and recent graduates; amd

10.  That a more professional standard of conduct be required of the OCOT decision making process whereby sufficient research is undertaken to prove the merit of any proposed action.

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