Semi-skilled Electrician Fight-back

July 31, 2013 Semi-skilled electrician initiative in British Columbia meets fierce opposition RICHARD GILBERT staff writer A broad cross section of the electrical industry in B.C. is urging the provincial government to scrap an initiative allowing semi-skilled workers to perform regulated electrical work. The B.C. Safety Authority (BCSA) is expected to recognize Electrical Work Practitioner (EWP) certificates. “Allowing semi-skilled workers the right to perform regulated electrical work in B.C. on electrical systems, for which they are not adequately trained, will not enhance as claimed, but endanger public health and safety in B.C.,” said Rick May, president of the Electrical Inspectors Association of BC (EIABC). “The BCSA action also fails to properly recognize the authority of the Industry Training Authority (ITA) that has been mandated by the Province of B.C. as the governing body for trades training and trades qualifications in the Province of B.C.” He made this statement in a letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark earlier this month. In the letter, he argues that an action by the BCSA to recognize EWP certificates issued by the Applied Science Technologists & Technicians of B.C. (ASTTBC) could be illegal. The ASTTBC is in the final stages of developing the EWP program for technologists and technicians in electrical, electronics and biomedical disciplines, who perform repairs and maintenance on electrical equipment or systems. “We are not trying to create electricians,” said Martin MacGregor, manager of EWP registrations with the ASTTBC. “We are trying to validate the work our membership does, which is maintenance and service work on advanced electrical equipment. We are hoping to roll this out in the late fall, but this is dependent on meeting the requirements of the B.C. Safety Authority and getting approval.” According to a draft bulletin produced by the BCSA’s provincial safety manager Stephen Hinde, a limited scope electrical worker can perform regulated electrical work without supervision, after completing a minimum of 480 hours of work experience under the supervision of a qualified person. In addition, the EWP would be required to take a one-year technician program or a two-year technologist program. “The electrical work practitioner will complement the work of a qualified electrician,” said MacGregor. “We are all part of an electrical team. From the engineer to the electrician, we are all trying to ensure safety. Our people would not be involved or certified to do any construction or installation work. This is only work on existing equipment.” May argues that this action creates a legal conflict with Clause 15 of the B.C. Safety Standards Act because the ASTTBC is not a training organization. He also argues that the initiative undermines the Canadian electrical apprenticeship system and the national Red Seal endorsement program. A journey-person electrician is required to serve an electrical apprenticeship with 6,000 hours of field experience and 1,200 hours of technical training before receiving a certificate of qualification from the ITA. A large section of the electrical industry in B.C. has taken the position that this basic level of competency and an independent assessment through the national Red Seal exam are necessary to safely install and maintain regulated electrical equipment. For this reason, a petition was submitted to the Legislative Assembly on July 23, with 1,824 signatures calling on the provincial government to reverse the decision to create limited electrical work practitioner certifications for regulated electrical work, within a limited scope. The petition is backed by the Electrical Contractors Association of B.C., the Electrical Inspectors Association of B.C., the Electrical Articulation Committee of provincial college trades training instructors and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) of B.C. According to IBEW B.C. chair Phil Venoit, the electrical industry is concerned because they believe Red Seal electricians should perform all regulated maintenance and installation. As a result, the IBEW has taken the position that the EWP program is a threat to public health and safety, because unskilled workers will be able to work on energized circuits, replace existing electrical panels and other electrical equipment. However, some people in the construction industry aren’t sure that safety is the real reason behind the opposition to the program. “I think these people who are opposed to the electrical work practitioner program are wrapping themselves in the safety blanket, but it is all about competition,” said Philip Hochstein president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. “This has nothing to do with safety. It’s all about jurisdiction and protecting a market that they think is theirs and theirs alone. They don’t want to open up a segment of their market to competition. The ASTTBC people are well qualified to do the work.” What do you think of this initiative? Let us know at editor@journalofcommerce.com.