Manitoba Government Restores Union-Backed 1:1 Apprentice Ratio

Categories: Canada, IBEW

Apprentices in Manitoba will soon have a safer experience on the jobsite, thanks to New Democratic Party Premier Wab Kinew making good on a campaign promise to return to a 1:1 ratio of apprentices to journeypeople.

“For someone training to be an electrician, proper supervision can be a matter of life and death,” Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2085 Business Manager Dave McPhail said. “It is a breath of fresh air to have a government that has the courage to listen to workers. Moving back to 1:1 will help keep my members safe, and I am grateful.”

The 1:1 ratio, backed by the IBEW along with the Manitoba Building Trades, was established in 2000, a year after apprentice Michael Skanderberg was electrocuted while working unsupervised. But in 2020, under the Progressive Conservative government, that ratio was changed to 2:1, something the IBEW has been lobbying against ever since its introduction.

With a new, worker-friendly NDP government in place, the safer 1:1 ratio will soon be restored. It’s a change that not only makes job sites safer but also levels the playing field for unions like Local 2085, which still had a ratio of 1:1 in its collective bargaining agreements, Local 2085 Assistant Business Manager Daemien Bernhard said.

Unscrupulous contractors have opposed the change, saying it will hurt their ability to train enough apprentices to deal with the looming worker shortage and even threatening that they’ll have to lay people off.

But that is simply not true, McPhail said. “It’s fearmongering. A lower ratio actually creates the conditions for contractors to hire more journeypeople while ensuring a quality training for apprentices. All the 2:1 ratio did was incentivize contractors to keep workers in training through apprenticeship and not hire journeypeople.”

Those opposed to the safer ratio have even argued that a 2:1 apprentice to journeyperson standard is somehow better for apprentices, which McPhail called illogical.

“It overlooks the reality of time constraints on journeypeople,” he said. “Industry knows it is more difficult for a journeyperson to pass on the full knowledge of their craft when they are juggling the needs of multiple apprentices under their supervision.”

The restoration of the union-backed 1:1 ratio is the fulfillment of a campaign promise by Kinew, whose NDP won enough seats to form a majority government in 2023, ousting the PC government.

“This is yet another example that elections have consequences,” First District International Vice President Russ Shewchuk said. “Because of the hard work of our Manitoba members to get out the vote for the NDP and Premier Kinew’s commitment to working people, our job sites are safer and our apprentices are getting the high-quality training they deserve.”

The 1:1 ratio isn’t unique to Manitoba. Ontario, led by a PC government, recently adopted the standard.

The ratio has yet to go into effect in Manitoba, due to a block by the opposition PC party, and will be tabled in the fall session.

“As a Red Seal electrician, I know well the vital role health and safety regulations play in keeping workers safe on the job and that the consequences can be fatal when standards are not upheld,” McPhail said. “Frankly, the lack of fatality or serious injury under the current 2:1 apprenticeship ratio is sheer luck.”

*This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of The Electrical Worker Online (English only)

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