Canadians were reminded of one such example when the prime minister highlighted in his Labour Day message a commitment his government made in the 2016 federal budget: A promise of $85.4 million over five years to support union-based apprenticeship training. While investments in apprenticeship training are critical to address the looming labour shortages in the construction sector, this particular investment completely ignores current employment realities.
The issue is simple: outside of Quebec, the vast majority of employment in construction is in the open shop sector, wherein union membership is not a condition of employment. For example, in Saskatchewan 15 per cent of the construction workforce is unionized versus 85 per cent in the open shop sector. In Alberta, less than 20 per cent of the construction workforce is represented by a building trades union. In New Brunswick, over 70 per cent of the workforce is open shop. These figures are consistent across the country, yet the federal government has chosen to give millions to union training centres.
This move could topple Canada’s entire apprenticeship system, which has been working well for decades. No open shop employer is going to send an employee to a union training centre, since those facilities are de facto recruitment centres that include union organization in the training curriculum. Meanwhile, without employers, the bulk of whom are in the open shop sector, there is nowhere for apprentices to work.