Province going back on a promise to let trade qualifications inspectors keep jobs

By Alan S. Hale September 29, 2021

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton’s Monday announcement that the task of verifying skilled trades workers’ credentials will be handed over to Ministry of Labour health and safety inspectors has the NDP and at least one Ontario College of Trades inspector up in arms.

Starting next year, the Ministry of Labour’s health and safety inspectors will take over the task of ensuring trades workers are up to code — something the PCs recently took heat for not enforcing since the middle of 2018.

The province plans to hire 100 new graduates to help with the increased workload, bringing the number of health inspectors to an all-time high of 507.

However, roughly 30 unionized inspectors currently do that job for Ontario College of Trades. In 2013, they were promised in writing by then-assistant deputy labour minister Marcelle Crouse (now an associate deputy minister) they would be entitled to “successor rights,” should their positions be transferred to another employer or ministry, Queen’s Park Today has learned.

This promise was made at a time when enforcement was being transferred from the Ministry of Labour to the College of Trades — a changeup that is now being reversed.

A College of Trades inspector told Queen’s Park Today on the condition of anonymity they and their colleagues received a heads-up that their jobs with the college will come to an end this November, although no official announcement has been made.

“We made a commitment to move enforcement back to the Ministry of Labour and not to have a separate body,” McNaughton told Queen’s Park Today in an interview yesterday. “We are replacing 30 college inspectors with 100 Ministry of Labour inspectors … once the instructions go out, they will be enforcing trade certifications plus health and safety.”

Up until Monday, the inspectors had assumed that they would be simply given transfers to the new Skilled Trades Ontario body the PCs are creating to replace the College of Trades.

McNaughton’s announcement that their jobs will be added to the responsibilities of health inspectors instead came as a shock.

“We were jumping up and down, ‘What did he just say? I can’t believe it,’” the inspector recalled. “There was no mention of succession rights even though the minister literally said they will be enforcing trade licences, which is our job. So it’s funny to me that the Minister of Labour is not even following his labour laws.”

Successor rights are enshrined in Sec. 68 and Sec. 69 of the Labour Relations Act, which gives a trade union the right to claim that a new employer is the successor of the old “by reason of a merger or amalgamation or a transfer of jurisdiction,” and therefore is bound by the same collective agreement.

Media prepare ahead of Labour Minister Monte McNaughton’s press conference in Newmarket on Sept. 28, 2021.

NDP slams layoffs, says PCs are hurting consumer confidence

NDP Workplace Health and Safety critic Wayne Gates slammed the PCs for “laying off” the inspectors. He said the government’s lacklustre trades enforcement is “undermining consumer confidence in the trades” and emboldening “employers who wish to break the rules.”

“[Premier Doug Ford] is disrespecting the skilled tradespeople who worked hard to achieve their credentials,” said Gates.

McNaughton, however, said his ministry worked “very, very closely with our labour partners and with employers” on the enforcement changes to make sure they had buy-in.

Construction groups have been publicly supportive of the PC’s move to unwind the College of Trades, a measure Ford campaigned on.

“It did take time to get this right, it was important for us to do a full consultation,” McNaughton said. The “nimbler” Skilled Trades Ontario agency “has the widespread support of trade unions, industry leaders, employers, and training partners,” per his office.

But the inspector vehemently denied Minister McNaughton’s assertion that the College of Trades needed to be disbanded because its enforcement had become “very political” and said they and their colleagues had still managed to promote trades as a career even though they were barred from issuing tickets for infractions.

“The worst thing is that some people were flaunting [their lack of qualifications]. They might literally be changing someone’s tire or brakes and they don’t have any certification to be doing that, and we couldn’t lay a ticket because we were told not to,” they said. “All we could do was encourage them, and we did. We got a lot of people into the trades despite this.”

Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, which represents the College of Trades inspectors, told Queen’s Park Today the union is aware of the successor rights situation and is working to resolve the issue, although he was not able to provide further details.