Michael Douglas, an electrician and owner of MD Electric in St. Thomas is urging trades people to speak out about membership fees imposed by the new Ontario College of Trades
Credits: HANK DANISZEWSKI/QMI AGENCY
The steep increases are needed to finance a new governing body for tradespeople called the Ontario College of Trades.
Supporters of the college say it will give tradespeople a stronger voice and more protection from unlicensed workers.
But a St. Thomas, ON, electrician is so concerned about the bite that would be put on the pocketbooks of tradespeople he's taking out newspaper ads to warn them of the steep increases and new fees.
"It's just a big government bureaucracy. It was supposed to streamline the system, but they are funding the entire thing on the backs of tradespeople," said Michael Douglas, an electrician and owner of MD Electric.
Douglas said he will have to pay for his personal licence and again as an employer if the new fees are approved. He also pays extra fees for his master's and contractor's licence.
"Now it's going to cost me about $2,000 just to be in business," he said.
Under a new proposed fee structure that will kick in next year, a specific category of tradespeople would pay a mandatory membership fee as high as $200 annually, up from the $60 licence fee they pay every three years.
Apprentices and employers would also have to pay annual fees for the first time -- up to $100 for apprentices and from $100 to $600 for employers, depending on the size of the company.
The college will become fully operational next year and have about 500,000 members. It's designed to be a self-regulating body to supervise skilled trades and apprentice programs.
The college has given members of the industry a June 3 deadline to comment on the proposed changes.
Douglas is urging tradespeople to speak up.
He said he doesn't feel properly represented by the board members who will run the college.
Only three out of the 10 members on the board panel that supervises electricians are non-union. About 75% of the electricians in the province are non-unionized, Douglas said.
"When the government picked their people they leaned heavily toward unionized workers," he said.
Non-union companies have been asking the government to open up more apprentice positions by reducing the number of tradespeople required to supervise them.
"With this board so heavily unionized, we will never get that changed," Douglas said.
He said his company has developed a specialty in wiring movie theatres and has a contract in Edmonton where apprenticeship rules are less restrictive.
"I plan on hiring more apprentices but they have to be willing to go to Alberta to work," he said.
Jim MacKinnon, business manager of the Labourers' International Union of North America, Local 1059, disputes Douglas' figures, saying a majority of electricians working in the province are unionized.
But he said union membership shouldn't be an issue when it comes to representing the tradespeople.
The formation of the college is a positive step that will make the industry more independent and self-regulating like other skilled professions in Ontario, MacKinnon said.
He praised the college's efforts to get feedback as "transparent" because all comments are posted on the website. But he reserved judgment on whether the proposed fees are appropriate until he gets more information,
"People are saying, 'Why? For What? What are you going to the money and why do you need it?' "