By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
The Ontario Construction Employers Coalition is calling on the government to eliminate the College of Trades, referring to the new institution a “job killer.”
Susan McGovern, vice-chair of the coalition, is also asking the province to take a hard look at growing issues surrounding skilled trades in the province.
“It puts small businesses and trades people out of work,” McGovern said of the College of Trades. “That’s not the kind of choice we want here in Ontario when we’re trying to create jobs and keep the economy moving.
“It’s totally backwards.”
The College of Trades is a regulatory body that gives industry a greater role in recruitment, governance, certification and apprenticeship training. It will also give the skilled trades a professional regulatory body similar to that of teachers, doctors and nurses.
But, for members of the coalition, the institution is causing more problems than good; namely regarding the introduction of an annual fee for both employees and employers and by making more trades certifiable fields.
The fees, McGovern said, would add up to an $84 million tax grab for the government. In total, tradespeople will have to pay between $100-$200, whereas it’s $600-$700 for employers.
“Anyone who’s in a skilled trade now already pays fees to the ministry of labour,” she said, adding thousands of dollars are spent each year on fees to various departments. “They pay all kinds of fees — this is just another fee and for what?”
The fees paid into the institution will run its programs like the apprenticeship enforcement, review and support systems.
But, McGovern argued the programs aren’t working. She said when the enforcement component comes into effect, a lot of people will lose their jobs.
“When the fees come out and they start monitoring it, they’ll look at companies who have more than one or two apprentices and they’ll say, ‘You’ll have to lay those kids off’,” she said. McGovern explained that in Ontario, there must be three, four or five journeymen (seasoned trades people) for each apprentice, rather than the one-to-one ratio found in other provinces.
That is something that adds to the unemployment rate, McGovern said. She explained a situation where a gentleman in the Durham region hired two unemployed young men six or seven years ago.
“He said, ‘Those two boys are my best employees,” McGovern recalled. “He said, ‘When this thing comes in with the College of Trades, I’ve got to lay those two kids off (because of the ratio)’.”
While McGovern argues there is a skilled trade shortage in the province, London West MPP Chris Bentley argued the opposite. He said more and more apprentices are trained each year.
“We have been enormously supportive of making sure people can obtain apprenticeships and then during those apprenticeships, they can obtain the necessary training so they can qualify as a trade,” Bentley said. “We have more apprentices than ever and, of course, we’re supporting those apprentices.”
He argued while the fees will soon burden apprentices, they used to be a taxpayers’ burden.
“Now it’s going to be paid for by the people who are directly part of the apprenticeship program,” he said.
Changes made through the institution will affect all trades, including everything from hair stylists to electricians.
“The College of Trades is also compulsory certifying the manufacturing industry, service industry, motive industry and the construction industry,” McGovern said. “You go to get your haircut after January, you’re going to pay more because the hairdresser is going to have the $100 or $200 (fee) ... and you’re going to pay for that as a consumer.
“People don’t realize that — it gets everybody.”
In total, annual fees for apprentices range from $50 to $100; journeypersons will have to foot a $100 to $200 annual fee; employers will have to pay between $100 and $600, depending on whether they’re small, medium or large in size; and a $50 to $100 fee will be paid for by a new class of trade workers.
Derek Smith, executive director of the London and District Construction Association (LDCA), said the fees are a double tax and his group will be fighting its implementation “every step of the way.” The LDCA and its 500-plus members are the latest addition to the coalition.
“The way we see it, the Ontario College of Trades is another layer of bureaucracy that is imposing yet another tax on trades people and employers who already pay licences and countless other fees to the government,” Smith said.
One group of people this could affect is the out-of-work former Electro-Motive Canada (EMC) workers who have been hitting the pavement since the Oxford Street plant closed in February.
Bob Scott, co-ordinator of the Canadian Auto Workers EMC Employment Centre, said with a number of the former workers looking into second career options, the new fee and the number of apprentices that can be hired may contribute to a frustrating situation.
“It’s just another slash at the working guy,” Scott said. “You have an employee here that’s out of work, looking for a job, now he has to pay another fee.”
If the government made it easier for people to get their schooling —apprentices included — Scott added it would help keep a skilled workforce from emigrating out of Ontario and help with the unemployment rate.
For more information on the coalition and its campaign, visit www.stopthetradestax.ca.