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Unregistered electrical workers a ‘huge problem,’ says Ontario trade union

WATCH: A trade union is sounding the alarm about unregistered workers in the electrical sector. This comes a week after a young man died working on a condo in downtown Toronto. As Albert Delitala explains, some say it's a tug of war between safety and saving money.

The 18-year-old man who died after he was electrocuted while performing electrical work at a downtown Toronto condominium building wasn’t registered as an apprentice, a work arrangement that is a “huge problem” according to a major trade union.

Vadim Buczel was taken off life support on Thursday, two days after the incident at 85 Queens Wharf Road near Front and Bathurst. The Mississauga man was working for a company called Nord Electric Ltd. at the time, servicing a hallway exit sign, according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

READ MORE: Family of 18-year-old Mississauga man wants answers after fatal industrial accident

His family told Global News last week his supervisor had briefly left him working on a ladder alone when the accident happened.

“The guy was supposed to be with him. He left him. He didn’t hear when he fell off the ladder,” his mother, Dorothy, said.

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“We don’t know how long he’s been laying there without oxygen. Without vital signs. And that may be the cause that he’s actually not here with us today.”

Buczel had recently graduated from a three-month program at the Skilled Trades College of Canada, his family said, but according to the Ontario College of Trades, he wasn’t registered in its database, as is legally required for staff performing electrical work.

Industry-wide issue

“It’s a huge problem,” said James Barry, the executive chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) — Construction Council of Ontario, which represents 18,000 electricians and apprentices in the province.

“You could either be hurt or, God forbid, death could occur. Simply, without going through the proper training to get the skill set, you put yourself at risk,” he said.

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Once registered, an electrical apprentice must gain 9,000 hours of experience to become a full-fledged journeyperson, but some companies delay registration, allowing them to pay lower wages to affected staff, Barry said.

He estimates there are 1,000 unregistered electrical workers in Ontario at any given time.

Journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio

Another challenge to safety, according to the IBEW, is the journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio, which stipulates how many journeypeople must be present for each apprentice. It decreased from three-to-one to one-to-one after the Ontario legislature passed Bill 47 — the Making Ontario Open for Business Act — in November 2018.

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The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities told Global News in a statement that the safety and quality of training of apprentices is a priority.

“There is no empirical evidence that journeyperson to apprentice ratios have an impact on safety in the workplace,” the statement read. “There is also no evidence that Ontario’s previous complex and restrictive ratio regime promoted a higher standard of training for apprentices.”

WATCH: (June 6, 2019) Educating youth on workplace safety

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Regardless of the legally-required ratio, Barry said the main issue is enforcement, which he believes has been lacking for decades.

“Ratios have never been enforced, in my knowledge, in 40 years,” he said. “Going from three-to-one to one-to-one without enforcement — it’s irrelevant.”

READ MORE: Charges laid in Lethbridge workplace incident that left woman paralyzed

Learning from tragedy

The death of a young, unregistered worker is a reminder of the due diligence that should be done before building management hires a contractor, CityPlace Residents’ Association president Gary Pieters told Global News.

“Employee safety is job number one,” Pieters said. “We would like anyone who works in CityPlace to be registered. We want employers to follow the labour law.”

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Dorothy Buczel hopes her son’s death will serve as a reminder to other young workers to take every possible precaution.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of work that you do,” she said. “If there’s someone that is supposed to supervise you, please ask them to be beside you. If not, please don’t do it. Because it can happen [to you] what happened to my son.”

The Ministry of Labour said Nord Electric has complied with its investigation, which is ongoing.

Global News contacted the company by phone and email but did not receive a response.

Ontario NDP’s Health and Safety and WSIB critic Wayne Gates has since commented on Buczel’s story, speaking on how the Ford government is stepping backwards on safety measures and support for injured workers.

“My heart aches for Vadim’s family, who is going through a loss that no family should have to go through,” Gates said. “We owe it to workers and their families to do everything in our power to keep people safe on the job in Ontario.”

The Buczel family has set up a Gofundme campaign to raise money for funeral expenses and to set up a memorial fund.

— With files from Catherine McDonald