As of last year, people in Ontario who wish to cut hair for a living must be a member of the Ontario College of Trades, which has mandated a 600 percent increase in certification fees for hairstylists. The newly formed Ontario Hairstylists Association claims that the “salon tax” threatens the success of numerous small businesses and that customers only care that hairstylists are qualified, not that they are a member of the College of Trades.
This incident should raise questions for Canadians about how the trades are regulated. Both compulsory and voluntary trades exist across the provinces. If a trade is compulsory, a person cannot legally work in the trade in that province unless they carry a certificate of qualification from the corresponding regulatory body or are registered in the apprenticeship program. If a trade is voluntary, a person can seek certification if they desire but can also work without it.
The trades considered compulsory are not consistent across the country. For example, hairstyling is a compulsory trade in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Nova Scotia, but in other provinces, it is a voluntary trade. In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, a bricklayer is a compulsory trade, while it is not in the western provinces. In Manitoba, a plumber is not a compulsory trade, but it is in most other provinces.
Furthermore, the amount of harm that could result from an unqualified person working in a compulsory trade versus a voluntary trade is not necessarily greater. In Manitoba, an esthetician or nail technician is a compulsory trade, but a railway car technician or a cook is a voluntary trade.
Especially when other provinces do not see reasons to make a trade compulsory, one might ask if making a trade compulsory is really necessary. Worker safety, consumer and environmental protection, and the benefits of professional standards are reasons often cited for compulsory certification. While compulsory certification can enhance these things, it is not a cure-all, nor is it clear that making a trade compulsory has superior results to offering voluntary certification.
Most importantly, the decision about whether trade certification should be compulsory should not be up to those that have a financial incentive to keep out competition. The Manitoba government explicitly states on its website that whether or not a trade is compulsory depends upon a request from the industry in question, and submissions can be made to the Minister of Jobs and the Economy.
Industry organizations might seek regulations that benefit only existing members or even the regulatory body itself, and not the public at large, when prices go up and people are discouraged from entering a trade. Unemployment is frowned upon, so unnecessary barriers to employment should be frowned upon too. The education requirements before an apprenticeship can even start are often costly.
In Mississippi, African hairbraiders were legally prevented from earning money by braiding hair unless they spent thousands of dollars completing years of training mandated by the State Board of Cosmetology, despite the fact that the training generally did not even include African hairbraiding. In 2005, the governor was right to free them from such licencing requirements. Similarly, barbers in Ontario are now arguing that they should not be required to go back to school to become certified hairstylists and learn how to do irrelevant styling techniques.
Voluntary certification or accreditation is a great option for workers who want to demonstrate to employers and clients that they have proper experience and adhere to professional standards. For example, while a person can practice public relations without a licence, employers are likely to prefer professionals endorsed by the Canadian Public Relations Society. It carries out quality control of its members and offers opportunities for professional development. Similarly, information technology (IT) practitioners have the option of obtaining special designations from Canada’s Association of IT Professionals.
If an organization offering certification begins to demand too much from its members or instead fails to properly hold its members to high standards, employers should be free to hire outside the organization. Workers might establish a separate association to train and certify each other, and workers, employers and the public can then choose between competing regulatory bodies.
Canadians should demand for unnecessary barriers to employment to be torn down and for organizations and individuals to be allowed the freedom to compete to offer the highest quality of service and professionalism without the burdensome red tape.