More than 30 inspectors who enforce credentials in the skilled trades have received layoff notices as a result of a decision by Premier Doug Ford’s government, CBC News has learned.
The layoff notices went out last week to inspectors in the compliance and enforcement section of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), the agency that licenses tradespeople such as electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics and hairstylists.
The Ford government is dissolving the agency, but all its duties continue. Its inspection role is being shifted to the Ministry of Labour and its work related to apprenticeships goes to a new body called Skilled Trades Ontario.
Despite the continuation of their duties — and even though most OCOT managers and staff get to stay on the provincial payroll with Skilled Trades Ontario — the 30-plus inspectors face being out of work come February.
“Doug Ford said no one would lose their jobs,” said Terry Dorgan, an inspector who has been in the job since 2013. “We trusted him.”
Ford stated frequently during the 2018 election campaign, including during one of televised leaders debates, that no public sector workers would be laid off under his government.
Dorgan said he feels “gutted, betrayed and lied to” as a result of the layoff notice.
“We were promised we wouldn’t lose our jobs in 2018, when [Ford] said he was winding down the college and replacing it with something better,” Dorgan said in an interview from his home near Peterborough, Ont.
He doesn’t understand why he and the other inspectors weren’t simply transferred to become employees in the Ministry of Labour, since the ministry is taking over the enforcement of credentials in Ontario’s 23 licensed trades.
Instead, the ministry recently went on a hiring spree of new inspectors that excluded “the people that have the knowledge and skills that have been doing this function for 10 years,” said Dorgan.
“We believe 100 per cent that this is an unfair labour practice. You can’t take people’s jobs and sell them to someone else,” he said.
A spokesperson for Monte McNaughton, the minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, said ministry inspectors must have the skills and knowledge to enforce a wider range of workplace legislation than the OCOT inspectors handled, such as employment standards and occupational health and safety.
“Our ministry hires the best candidates for the positions we have available,” said McNaughton’s press secretary Harry Godfrey in a statement that also described the College of Trades as a failure.
“Instead of being a fair and balanced regulator, they used their power to cater to special interests, which is why our government stepped in to improve the system for everyone,” said Godfrey.
Dorgan said he never heard any complaints about the quality of the inspectors’ work during his time at OCOT.
At age 61, he is close to retirement but says other colleagues facing layoff have young families and are in what he called “gut-wrenching” situations.
Another inspector provided CBC News with a copy of his layoff notice but asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions. That inspector is also calling on Ford to keep his promise that no one would lose their jobs.
“Why would he go back on his word? Is that what he wants to be remembered for, as a liar?” said the inspector. “I can’t have faith in this government.”
McNaughton told CBC News last summer that enforcement of certification in the skilled trades would continue once OCOT was dissolved. The government’s Building Opportunities in the Skilled Trades Act, passed in June, sets in motion the transfer of the inspectors’ duties to the Ministry of Labour.
In a memo obtained by CBC News, McNaughton’s deputy minister makes it clear the inspectors are not getting jobs at the Ministry of Labour.
“The ministry has determined that it has the capacity to conduct the compliance and enforcement functions … from within its current staff complement of 507 inspectors,” says the memo dated Aug. 31, addressed to the chief executive and board chairman of OCOT.
“I trust this update will allow your organization to make critical organizational decisions.”
OCOT’s layoff notices to the inspectors went out on Nov. 17 and the agency explicitly linked the layoffs to government policy.
“We regret to inform you that you will be laid off from your employment effective close of business on Feb. 17, 2022,” says the letter to the inspector who asked not to be identified.
“We anticipate that this layoff will be permanent as a result of government decisions related to the Compliance and Enforcement function.”
“It just feels like we’re being robbed,” said the inspector.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) represents the workers being laid off.
The inspectors who spoke to CBC News believe they ought to have successor rights to jobs at the Ministry of Labour since their duties are not being transferred there. They allege this is a violation of labour law and want their union to challenge the layoffs.
“There have been no forced job losses so far, so I am quite confident that we can work with the government to find them jobs,” OPSEU president Smokey Thomas said in a phone interview.
The Ford government has merged or dissolved other provincial agencies since taking power, most notably in the health sector, where agencies such as Cancer Care Ontario were absorbed into the new Ontario Health.