Ontario College of Trades rules in favour of employers and college opponents about apprenticeship ratios

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    The Ontario College of Trades website reports on the apprenticeship ratio reviews
    The Ontario College of Trades website reports on the apprenticeship ratio reviews

    OCOT supports interests of individuals and groups who wish the organization to be abolished, including Merit Ontario’s Phil Besseling

    Ottawa Construction News staff writer

    The Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), in its first rulings implementing apprenticeship ratio reviews, has supported the interests of organizations and employers who have strongly opposed the organization’s establishment.

    The apprenticeship ratio review panels have reduced ratios in eight of the trade groups evaluated so far, and increased them in only one. In presentations and submissions to the review panels, employer groups favoured a ratio reduction, while unions called for increases or maintaining the status-quo, in many cases three journeymen for each apprentice.

    Reduced ratios mean that employers can hire more lower-cost apprentices in relation to the number of journeypersons on the job. Employer groups including Merit Ontario and the Ontario Coalition of Construction Employers generally believe a one-to-one journeyman to apprentice ratio is sufficient.

    (See the ratio reviews here.)

    The OCOT has polarized the province’s construction industry. The London and District Construction Association and the Ottawa Construction Association decided last year not to continue its membership in the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA) because the provincial organization has taken a neutral stand on the OCOT.

    The Ontario ratios have not been reviewed for most trades for many years, in some cases upwards of three decades or more. The OCOT has been mandated to conduct the ratio reviews once every four years.

    Among the surprising decisions, one review panel rejected a “preliminary motion as to bias” to have former Merit Ontario chair Phil Besseling removed from the panel evaluating the sheet metal trade.

    The panel rejected a motion from representatives of the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers and Roofers’ Conference for Besseling to be recused. After deliberations, the panel then reduced the ratios for both sheet metal workers and roofers.

    Besseling, who receives $400 per day in compensation for his work as an adjudicator on four review panels, says he still wishes the OCOT would be closed.

    “The ratio reviews could have been done by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities,” Besseling said. “There was no need to set up a separate entity, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions.”

    “The ministry . . . was doing a fine job and wasn’t broken,” Besseling said. “Why did we set up this multi-million dollar entity to be the arbitrar of everything?”

    Besseling, president of Besseling Mechanical in Hamilton, has been one of the leading proponents of the open shop movement – no friend of organized labour or the OCOT.

    The sheet metal workers, in their presentations to the ratio review panel asking for Besseling to be recused, asserted:

    • that he has a direct pecuniary interest in the determination fo the proceedings;
    • that he has an indirect pecuniary interest in the determination of the proceedings;
    • he (or a company he controls) has a general interest as an employer of apprentices in the sheet metal trade;
    • he is associated with Merit Ontario, which has taken a public position on the ratio question;
    • he is associated with Merit Ontario which is in turn a member of the ontario Coalition of Construction Employers (which has made submissions in the matter.)

    Besseling sat on the panel as it decided on the request to recuse himself. Other panelists included chair David McKee and Steve Panasyuk.

    Besseling said McKee, a lawyer who also sits as an adjudicator on the Ontario Labour Relations Board (ORLB) took the lead in deciding on the sheet metal union’s motion. McKee wrote an extensive decision, which is posted on the OCOT website, outlining the fact that the ratio review panel is a “policy tribunal” rather than an “adjudicative tribunal” and there is no reason why Besseling cannot sit and decide on issues relating to the sheet metal apprenticeship ratio.

    A policy tribunal “determines a regulatory matter of general application,” the panel decision reported. “It does not determine rights; rather it sets standards and policies to everyone whether or not they were parties to the proceedings before us. On that bases, the panel performs as a policymaking function that requires the exercise of judgement to a greater extent than fact-finding or dispute resolution.”

    The lengthy ruling addresses and then outlines counter-arguments to the sheet metal union’s claims, citing several court decisions, especially on the aspect of “pecuniary interest,” that is the assertion that Besseling could gain a specific business advantage because of his participation in the ruling for a lower apprenticeship ratio.

    However, the review panel said if the ratio is reduced for Besseling’s company, it is also reduced for all of his competitors, so the end result will be that no one business (especially Besseling’s) would have an advantage.

    Tim Fenton, business manager of the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers’and Roofers’ Conference, could not be reached for comment.

    Tristan Austin, the OCOT’s senior communications officer, said “some individuals on the roster of adjudicators are tradespersons and employers.”

    “Some of the adjudicators are vice-chairs from the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB),” he said. “The OLRB members are individuals with extensive experience in the adjudicative process. All individuals on the roster of adjudicators were selected for their expertise and skill and are capable of being neutral and impartial.

    “The review panels consist of three members selected from the roster of adjudicators; two are selected by the college of trades divisional board of the sector to which the trade belongs and one panel member (the chair) is selected by the college of trades board of governors from the OLRB.

    “The fee for the chair of a review panel (such as a panel reviewing journeyperson to apprenticeship ratios) is $665 per day, paid to the OLRB, for work related to their duties, which includes writing the ratio review panel decision. The remaining panel members of the review panels are paid $400 a day.”

    Austin said once the review panels release their reports determining new ratios for the trades, the OCOT board of governors “is required to implement the new ratios by passing a regulation to that effect.” These regulations must be approved by the provincial cabinet and then are posted to Ontario’s e-Laws website.

    “The college expects that changes to apprenticeship ratios will come into effect in 2014,” he said. “The college will also inform apprentices and employers about the changes before the changes take effect.”

    Austin said the college will review the journeyperson to apprenticeship ratios again in 2016. “The college is mandated to review ratios every four years, starting in 2012.”

    He said “the college is neutral on the matter” of ratio reviews. Interested parties have the right to make submissions to the review panels, who make their decisions by considering standardized criteria including safety, environmental concerns, labour supply, and circumstances in other provinces.

    “I assure you we will have more submissions (in 2016) than this time,” he said. “This has never been done before in Ontario.”

    In its decision, the review panel for sheet metal apprentice ratios indicated it had conflicting and incomplete information, but decided that a one-to-one ratio would be appropriate for the first apprentice, followed by the current 3:1 ratio for the next seven journeymen (with three apprentices), followed by a 2:1 ratio, for the additional apprentices for larger employers.

    This decision indicates that the ratio reduction for most sheet metal employers would be modest, but still would be greater than what the union had sought.

    The decision makes sense to Besseling. “In any trade, in my view, if you could suddenly can hire as many apprentices as you want, if there is no ratio, would you want to flood your firm (with unqualified apprentices)?,” he said. “If you had 20 people in your firm, would you want to add 10 first-year young people. They need supervision. There is a learning curve.”

    Beselling said, however: “My point is this could have been done without the enacting entity, the OCOT . . it could have been done by the ministry.”

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