CAW Brief to Hearings on Bill-55 - An Act to Revise the Trades Qualification and Apprenticeship Act

November 16, 1998

Brief to the Hearings On Bill 55

November 16, 1998

Canadian Auto Workers Union:

The CAW is the largest private sector union in Canada. Our current membership is 215,000. Our members are organized into 1,300 bargaining units and close to 350 local unions. In the last ten years our membership has almost doubled.

The CAW represents workers from coast to coast. We are the largest private sector union in Ontario, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, P.E.I., and Nova Scotia. We also have a major presence in Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba and Alberta. The CAW is the largest union in sectors such as auto assembly and auto parts manufacturing, aerospace, shipbuilding, fisheries and in railway transportation. In several other sectors such as airlines, mining, electrical/electronics and hospitality, the CAW has a major presence in the industry.

In addition to our skilled trades base in auto, auto parts, and aerospace, we represent motor vehicle mechanics in repair garages and dealerships and shop craft workers in locomotive and car shops. We also represent skilled trades in mining, ship building, and in the hospitality sector. This gives us a unique vantage point to address apprenticeship training issues that cut across so many sectors of the economy.

Brief to the Hearings on Bill 55:

We appreciate the opportunity to appear before this committee. However limited these hearings are -- four days in four cities -- we remain hopeful that, not only will we get an opportunity to present our views, but that we will actually be heard. To date that has not happened with Bill 55.

The legislation before you is the flawed outcome of a flawed process.

Those most knowledgeable about apprenticeship issues, those most involved in apprenticeship programs, those who are currently in and those who have graduated from apprenticeship programs have been ignored.

The skilled trades have been part of our union since its formation in the 1930's. We have been negotiating apprenticeship programs with employers for decades. We've supervised thousands of apprentices in the at-work portion, we've developed more than one generation of tool and die makers, electricians, machinist and millwrights. And now we are working with other trades such as heavy duty mechanics in the railways, automotive mechanics in repair garages, steelplaters and metal workers in the marine yards. We have continuously upgraded programs, revised standards and promoted apprenticeship through various Provincial Advisory Committees, national bodies and special projects.

Our concerns with Bill 55 are rooted in that experience and grow out of our long commitment to apprenticeship.

We are dealing with legislation that has been drafted ostensibly to increase the number of apprentices in Ontario and provide additional opportunities for youth.

But it is our view that:

  • You don't increase the number of apprentices by reducing the quality of their training.

  • You don't expand opportunities for young apprentices by reducing their wages.

  • You don't regulate the acquisition of skill by deregulating apprenticeship.

  • You don't deal with a federal government which has eliminated its support for apprenticeship by further downloading those costs onto individual apprentices.

  • And you don't reform apprenticeship by taking the 'skill' out of skilled trades.

Yet we are dealing with legislation that will do precisely those things.

More and Better Opportunities for Youth

We share both the interest and the concern that others have with developing more young apprentices. Even though it is important that apprenticeship provides upgrading for our existing members we also want more opportunities for youth. But we don't just want more opportunities we want better opportunities. Some of our initiatives have been around for awhile. At GM, for example we have a 2 to1 ratio in hiring apprentices. For every two apprentices which come from the existing workforce one can come from outside. Other initiatives are more recent. In Windsor we have launched an important pilot project in co-op apprenticeship with Chrysler Corporation and St.Clair College. The program provides students with a chance to not only learn at school but to learn from our skilled trade journeypersons in the plant. There are currently 25 co-op students in the program. Because of the co-op nature of the initiative, these students will have accumulated a substantial amount of hours toward their apprenticeship, while at the same time achieving credits towards the Electrician/Electronics Engineering Technology Co-Op Program. The first year of schooling is directly related to the in-school portion of an industrial electrician apprenticeship.

The co-op students work Monday and Friday of each week in the plant and attend school the remainder of the week. They start in the plant with a wage rate of 60% of the tradesperson rate and receive a 5% increase for every 1,000 hours toward the apprenticeship.

Our trades workers want to pass on their skills. This is especially critical now when the overall numbers of apprentices in important trade areas has been on the decline in recent years and when many of our current skilled trades members will be eligible to retire in the next few years.

We would welcome an opportunity, working with employers and government to address these issues --- to sit down at a sectoral or on a community level and develop more innovative approaches. Bill 55 doesn't provide that opportunity. Instead it erects unnecessary barriers to this approach. Bill 55 will require us to preserve what we have, to protect the integrity of our apprenticeship programs and our trades in the face of a general degrading of apprenticeship and a downgrading of skills. We would be better served by building on what we have.

The government has indicated that the last major revision to the legislation was back in 1964. But that doesn't mean that apprenticeships have remained the same, that somehow we are dealing with a system that is inflexible and hopelessly out of date. On the contrary it is a system which has stood not only the test of time but the more telling demands of rapidly changing technologies and production processes. A tool and die apprenticeship is different today than it was in the 60's, 70's and even the 80's. An electrician today is a good deal different than his/her predecessor of a generation ago. Change is the constant. Our workplaces are becoming technologically more complex, individual pieces of equipment are becoming technically more sophisticated. New generations of hardware, software, equipment and tools are constantly putting new and additional demands on our apprentices and skilled trades. There are new computer controls, laser measuring and alignment equipment, vibration analysis equipment, there are generation after generation of PLCs, and other new computer mediated processes. There are developments such as stereolithography or rapid prototyping, unheard of just a handful of years ago. And yet over the years our skilled trades workforce and apprenticeship programs have successfully responded to these developments.

Bill 55 implies that our apprenticeship system has failed. But ask the question: Are our skilled trades failing to meet the needs of modern production? And then look for the answer, not in government background papers, but in our workplaces. Look at the auto industry's new plants such as Chrysler Bramalea, or those that have been completely overhauled and renovated such as Ford Oakville and GM's truck plant in Oshawa. The same plants that boast the fastest, the best, the most effective ramp-ups and launches in company history. Look for the answer even in old plants such as the former deHavilland facility in which Bombardier are building their new Global Express jet aircraft. We have workplaces in which new processes, new equipment, new technology and new products are all coming together, all happening at the same time, and yet our workforce and our skilled trades are making them work. Is that a sign of failure? Is that proof that our current training for apprentices is not effective?

It is just the opposite. Our skilled trades are professionally qualified and apprenticeship programs, such as those we have in the CAW, are highly effective.

The real question is why the government would trade off such a sure thing in exchange for the vague and ill-defined training programs envisioned by the new Act.

Survey after survey concludes that one of our strengths in Ontario is the education and the skill of our workforce. The World Economic Forum recently ranked Canada in the enviable top tier of countries. It specifically made reference to the education and skills of our workforce and to our strong technological base as reasons for our high ranking. The federal government in it's recent reports on the competitiveness of auto parts and the assembly sectors, point to our skilled workforce and the high productivity and quality in our plants.

All of this speaks directly to the quality of our skilled trades to the effectiveness of our apprenticeship program and to the skill of our workforce.

The issue isn't those in favour versus those who resist change, this isn't about those who support reform and those who simply want to hang on to the status quo. The question is does our apprenticeship system need to be destroyed somehow to be saved. The issue is whether you need to replace the foundation of a house because you want to replace the roof. We have long argued that the system needs to be adapted to better meet the needs of apprentices, to overcome some companies own shortsightedness, to strengthen the industrial base in the country and to upgrade skilled occupational groups. But that doesn't mean a complete gutting of the policy, the legislation, the funding, the regulations and the delivery of apprenticeship in Ontario.

Why Apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship is not just a training program. It is a way to develop the next generation of skilled workers and to do so in the context of our workplaces and our working relationships.

On the one hand what is called skilled work has usually meant better jobs for workers. Not only do they pay more but the jobs are more attractive in terms of skill, mobility, influence, control over work, technical mastery, and relationship to management.

On the other hand it is an effective way of deepening and broadening the technical foundation and capacity of our industries. Where we can take the theory of engineering and turn it into production.

These days it is hard to find such a win-win combination of good jobs and a productive technical base.

Apprenticeship programs provides the opportunity for apprentices to work with tradespersons who are able to pass along accumulated trade know-how.

They are workplace based, which grounds theory in the practical applications of real work situations.

They are time based which provides and opportunity to turn learning into knowledge and knowledge into skill.

It is that combination which makes apprenticeship such an effective program.

Apprenticeship reform should build on these strengths.

Setting the Test for Apprenticeship Reform:

Apprenticeship reform should meet a number of tests. For those who drafted the legislation the tests are flexibility and cost cutting but these cannot over ride other, more important, tests:

First is how we support the apprentice to succeed -- in the program, in the workplace and in the economy.

Second, as workplaces become more technologically intensive, how are we able to deepen skill amongst workers and establish the foundation for continual upgrading.

Third is how we provide opportunities for existing workers and those not in the workplace to acquire skilled trade knowledge and skill.

Fourth is how we provide -- at times reluctant employers -- with the requisite skill base for long term developments.

On all of these the current reforms fail the test.

Proposed Changes:

The changes proposed in the apprenticeship and certification act threaten apprenticeship on a number of levels. One is through a substitution of terms and particular provisions in the act, another is through the deletion of safeguards in the act and a third is by moving future changes into a less open and less transparent process of relying on regulations and the administrative decision of the director of apprenticeship. In the first instance, the clearly understood and regulated notion of a 'trade' is replaced with a vague and ill defined notion of a 'skill set' and occupation.

Today we know what a tool and die maker is, we know what an electrician can do, we can describe the job of a millwright. We can show you the requirements of the trade, we can show you the training program, we know what happens in the at-school portion, what happens in the workplace. We are confident that the ratio of trades to apprentices is such that the apprentice will actually have a chance to learn at work. We can point to the supervision and the workplace committees. We can tell you what the wages will be and when increases will happen, and we can talk about the role of the union, the responsibility of the apprentice and the employment contract with the employer. And most of all we can point to our certified skilled workers as outcomes of the process.

None of that would be the case if our trades developed under the proposed new legislation. Outside of the one page of definitions the word trade doesn't reappear in the legislation. It has been replaced with the phrase occupation or "skill set". Similarly you won't find any reference to employers or the employment relationship or contract between the employer and their apprentice. Instead of employer you get the ambiguous term "sponsor" and the phrase "registered training agreement".

In fact you rarely find the phrase apprenticeship program, the drafters preferring instead phrases like "training agreement".

These omissions and these substitutions are simply wrongheaded. So too is the removal of safeguards and the requirements which are the foundation of the apprenticeship system. Safeguards and provisions which have developed over the years to protect individual apprentices, which provide a set of rules to advance the body of trade knowledge and which provide employees and consumers with high standards of certification and safety are now redefined as barriers and are removed from the legislation.

Bill 55 eliminates the:

  • Ratios of journeypersons-to-apprentices;

  • Time guarantees for apprenticeship programs;

  • Regulated wage minimums for apprentices.

In addition it:

  • Encourages short-term, limited training programs;

  • Removes apprenticeship standards;

  • It puts at risk employee health and consumer safety by abandoning certified trades; and,

  • It shifts the costs of training to individual apprentices.

Replacing the Time to Learn with 'Skill Set' Acquisitions:

The draft legislation reduces training time for apprentices and gives employers more say over the duration of apprenticeship. It is hard to understand how eliminating the two year requirement will lead to higher levels of skill among apprentices or within workplaces. While time requirements may vary, it has to be recognized that there is a minimum time required to turn learning into knowledge and knowledge into skill. The legislation establishes a more patchwork model of skill development -- some skills here, some skills there, some skills not at all. The drafters of the legislation praise this as flexibility. But those who have served an apprentice can attest to the importance of both continuity and comprehensiveness in training. Many of the skills associated with skilled trade work only emerge as other skills are built on. Apprenticeship works as a package not in bits and pieces. In apprenticeship training the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Skills are layered, connected and built upon not doled out in measured doses. Shifting apprenticeship from a program that is workplace based and dependent on journeypersons transferring their knowledge over an established period of time to an industry-developed list of skills which can be acquired wherever in this or that length of time is not a solution and doesn't make sense.

One of the most serious consequences of this 'skill set' approach is Bill 55's intention to replace compulsory trades with a restricted skill set designation. Compulsory trades, of which there are currently 19 in Ontario, have developed to ensure worker and consumer safety as well as high standards of performance. Bill 55 will take this certified trades approach and turn it into a cafeteria of skill sets and parts of jobs.

At a recent Ministry sponsored workshop on the issue, representatives from all sectors unanimously agreed that the adoption of this restricted skill set would lead to the erosion of skill, threaten safety and downgrade the standards of work quality. We have attached to the brief the letter signed by both employer and employee representatives from the Industrial, Construction, Service and Motive Power sectors.

Throughout industry there are increased efforts to set standards and demand conformance to them. This is the case whether the issue is quality, safety, equipment reliability or technical protocols. It is a strange time to be diluting standards for apprenticeship programs and certification for skilled trades. Those who are pushing for new non-regulated quickie trades that fall outside of the regulated or compulsory framework should not be so easily getting their way.

Workplace Ratios:

The draft legislation abandons the journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios and replaces them with voluntary measures and guidelines. This will mean more apprentices will work without proper guidance and it risks more emphasis being put on the apprentice working as opposed to learning.

It can also mean that apprentices will be laid-off more frequently and may have to piece together their apprenticeship amongst different employers and amidst the vagaries of economic cycles. With workplace ratios there is a measure of both protection and security against this disruption.

In a survey conducted for the government by Ekos Research associates in 1997 the issue of workplace ratios was addressed by the apprentices. The Ekos report notes that:

"Whereas satisfaction ratings for the in-school portion were relatively even across various sub-groups, levels of satisfaction varied more significantly for the on-the-job training. Those who had experienced difficulties in completing their program (i.e. had experienced delays or had canceled their program) were less satisfied with their on-the-job training. Those in the non-regulated trades were less satisfied with their on-the-job training. More satisfied were those who had greater numbers of qualified tradespersons directly involved in their supervision and training."

Wage Rates:

Wage ratios were established to provide a system fair to both employers and to employees. The wage rates equate the cost of an apprentices wages with the return to the employer associated with the apprentices skill level. The time based wage increases rewards achievement while reducing the upfront costs to an employer. The elimination of wage ratios contemplated by Bill 55 will lead to a reduction in apprentice wages and will introduce a 'cheap labour' policy into a labour market that has a fair and workable system of wage determination. The elimination of wage ratios will lead to abuses in the system. It will also put at a competitive disadvantage those employers who pay fair wages and benefits to their apprentices.

Cutting Costs:

What the government means by apprenticeship reform has a lot to do with cutting costs. The government talks about "a shift to a more market driven approach in which apprentices take on greater responsibility for their own training..." This "new funding model" means a number of things.

First, it means the government will cut its own costs by introducing tuition fees for the classroom component of apprenticeship.

Second, it will cut employers costs by eliminating the minimum wage requirement for apprentices (for example, no less than 50% of the journeyperson's rate for first year apprentices).

Third after squeezing the apprentice on both ends it notes that it is optimistic that apprentices will be able to borrow money from the 'reformed' U.I. (the new EI) and go into debt for their apprenticeship.

We are opposed to shifting the burden of financing the apprenticeship system onto apprentices. So are others, as is indicated in the government's discussion paper of 1996:

"Stakeholders generally agreed that the province must continue to ensure that the program is properly funded in an accountable manner."

Who's Being Heard?

The ideas behind Bill 55 didn't come out of consultations in labour management forums. They didn't result from the deliberations of the industry committees that have been set up to advise on changes to apprentices. They didn't come from the experience of those who have came through apprenticeships. In fact the Act goes against most of what has been recommended and much of what the government has reported in discussion papers. To quote more at length from the December 1996 Summary of the Discussion Paper on Apprenticeship Reform:

"Most groups felt very strongly that maintaining government involvement in key areas of apprenticeship training was vital to the effectiveness of the system. Most groups agreed that helping to develop a skilled work force and ensuring the integrity of the apprenticeship system are important areas of government responsibility. Stakeholders generally wanted to retain government responsibility for providing an appropriate, workable, and enforceable legislative, regulatory, and policy framework. They also emphasized the need for a financial commitment from both the provincial and federal governments to fund system administration and help provide in-school training, income support for Apprentices and incentives for employers who participate in training.

Representatives of most sectors highlighted the need for government to act as an impartial partner to ensure that standards are in place, are sufficiently high, and are enforced. A continued or enhanced government role was also suggested in monitoring the on-the-job training, overseeing examinations, legitimizing certification, marketing the program, and providing support to PACs and other advisory and administrative bodies. Many groups also emphasized the need for a stronger partnership among government and other stakeholders and for government to find ways to facilitate greater co-operation and co-ordination among the partners."

Bill 55 ignores such reasonable advice.


There is a saying that has taken root in our workplaces: do it right the first time. We know that's easier than trying to repair, fix or in the case of this legislation, to amend it. Bill 55 wasn't done right the first time, but it can be done right the next time.

We urge the committee to recommend withdrawing the legislation and in it's place to establish an Apprenticeship Review Process that puts those directly involved around the table.

In auto, in autoparts, in aerospace, rail , in mining, and in those other sectors in which we represent skilled trades workers and apprentices, we are not only prepared to do so, but would welcome the opportunity.

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