‘Government wants to change the deal on them’: province seeks input on apprenticeship wages in lead-up to minimum-wage hike
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A provincial review of apprenticeship wages leaves the door open for rolled-back compensation amid a workforce shortage, labour advocates say.
Out of the 55 skilled trades in Manitoba, 26 industries are tied to the provincial minimum wage. Those connections range from apprentices receiving 110 per cent of minimum wage (with the ability to earn up to 150 per cent over time) or a trade-specific percentage.
The other 29 trades receive a percentage of the journeypersons — or the position that typically mentors and trains an apprentice — wage, which is typically set by the employer.
With Manitoba minimum wage set to hit $15 per hour in October, the provincial Apprenticeship and Certification Board is now holding a review of these compensation models, inviting “industry stakeholders” to provide feedback through an Engage MB survey. (Engage MB is a provincial government public input online platform.)
The survey (which can be taken by anyone with an Engage MB account) includes a question asking how the current wage rates are meeting the needs of apprentices, employers and the wider apprentice industry.
It also asks how wage rates for apprentices should be regulated. (The options are to leave rates the same, amended so all apprentices are paid based on a percentage of the journeypersons wage for their employer, or “other.”)
However, without a direct connection to the minimum wage, many trades won’t have an established pay increase over time and some won’t see a pay increase at all, Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said.
It may also mean skilled apprentices who have been working at their craft for a long period of time could be stuck making around minimum wage without any chance of more money, he said Wednesday.
“It’s proposing to strip away a scheduled increase that apprentices heard in September (2022) that they were going to get,” he said.
“They knew that the minimum wage is going up, they know that their wages tied to minimum wage — and now government wants to change the deal on them. That’s not fair.”
For some sectors with full union representation, such as construction, rates for journeypersons are negotiated. However, for many trades, Rebeck said, a journeyperson’s wage is simply what the market will pay.
“I think (the province) should be honest to Manitobans about what they’re talking about here. That seems to be their only concern — that some employers have said they want cheap labour,” Rebeck said.
On Wednesday, during question, Advanced Education and Training Minister Sarah Guillemard said the Progressive Conservative government is committed to “respectful wages” for apprentices.
Meantime, NDP labour critic Malaya Marcelino accused the Tories of planning to cut wages for apprentices working in construction.
“While everyday Manitobans struggle with increasing bills, (PCs) are trying to cut the wages of construction workers,” Marcelino said, calling for the government to commit to not reducing wages for apprentices.
Guillemard said the provincial government is reaching out to sector workers for feedback on various proposals on apprenticeship programs.
“We look forward to having more conversations with apprentices and front-line workers as we move forward in advancing their needs and paying them respectful wages, which we have always committed to do.”
The provincial government introduced two bills last year that eliminated the requirement contractors hire apprentices on public projects and changed the ratio of apprentices supervised by journeypersons from 1-1 to 2-1, a move criticized as unsafe by labour groups.
Manitoba Building Trades executive director Tanya Palson said Wednesday the review comes at a time when it’s well-known trade worker shortages are looming.
By 2027, Manitoba will need around 2,000 more fully-trained journeypersons to maintain increase in demand, advocates said.
Accounting for inflation, the Tories have defunded apprenticeship training by 43 per cent since 2016 (when they formed government), and apprenticeship training completion rates in the construction industry alone have gone down 28 per cent over the past 10 years, Palson said.
“It’s just talking out of both sides of their mouth, it seems like,” she said. “Acknowledging that we have the skill shortage but not only not doing anything, but actively doing things that objectively make it worse.”
The demand is Canada-wide, Palson added, and competition between provinces to bring in skilled trade workers will quickly heat up.
Both Rebeck and Palson said they were not contacted by government prior to the review, and both have reached out to the province in response.
There are more than 10,000 apprentices working in Manitoba.
— with files from Danielle Da Silva
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.