An Ontario man who worked briefly as an electrical apprentice in the Moncton area believes New Brunswick needs to do more to protect its skilled tradespeople.
Cole Gardiner said he always wanted to be an electrician.
After his schooling ended, he said he contacted unions and contractors across Canada. With the help of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1555, he secured a non-union position late in 2019 as an electrical apprentice with a company in the Moncton region.
“I wasn’t expecting to make tens of thousands of dollars in the time I was there, trying to learn,” said Gardiner, who was 20 years old when he was hired. “So I definitely focused on learning rather than trying to make a living.”
Gardiner said he rented a house with four other workers in the area but still had trouble making ends meet.
He said it wasn’t long into his new position before he noted problems.
Apprentices often worked unsupervised or under-supervised at job sites, he said. Often there were not enough journeypersons on site.
Apprentices were also expected to work overtime with no bump in pay.
IBEW Local 1555 membership development co-ordinator Jason Hamilton said there hasn’t been an apprenticeship enforcement officer in the field since 2015. He said New Brunswick also has a shortage of electrical inspectors.
Gardiner said he arranged to have an inspector visit a job site to examine the company’s practices.
“As soon as the inspector got on site, the inspector knew my foreman and everything was smoothed over,” Gardiner said. “I’m not going to name the foreman or the inspector, but it was clear to me we caught them red-handed and there was no punishment.”
Hamilton said these issues are not limited to just one company in the province. He says all of them do it because regulations are not enforced.
Speaking of the apprentice supervision, Hamilton said the regulations require a one-to-one ratio of journeypersons and apprentices.
“If that ratio isn’t being enforced, then the ratio doesn’t really exist,” he said.
He said the quality of the work in the marketplace has suffered.
“It’s an industry that really needs oversight,” Hamilton said. “And the reason it needs oversight is it could be dangerous to the person who installs electrical, while they’re installing it, and it can also be dangerous to the end-user.”
Trevor Holder, New Brunswick’s minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, said he has heard “legitimate concerns” about the lack of compliance officers in the province, overtime pay and other concerns, including those raised by the IBEW.
He said the province’s Employment Standards Act is under review.
“I’m hoping, in the near future, to come back to government with some recommendations,” Holder said. “I think some of those things will go a long way towards making sure that we have a safe and competitive environment to attract people from across the country.”
Gardiner said he never stopped looking for other work while he was in New Brunswick.
In February 2020, after four months of apprentice work, he said he joined the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 128 in Toronto and moved back to Ontario.
With the support of IBEW Local 1555, he filed a complaint to New Brunswick Employment Standards to claim the overtime money he believed was owed to him.
A short time later, he received $86 from the company. An investigation revealed 19 other employees were also owed overtime pay.
Gardiner said he misses New Brunswick, but not the work environment.
“New Brunswick isn’t the place for the run-of-the-mill worker,” Gardiner said. “It’s definitely the place that you want to be a self-made man.”
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