Strike Looming at Ontario Colleges As Full-Time Faculty Jobs Disappear, Part-Time Faculty Numbers Soar.
“It is a shame that so many students have enrolled in post-secondary education only to find a strike looming that might cost them their semester. The provincial government has thought to provide financial assistance to students but neither the government nor college management seem to have considered those who teach them..”
A News Commentary by Melissa McGlashan, a citizen activist in Niagara, Ontario and member of the South Niagara chapter of the Council of Canadians
Posted September 18th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
On September 13th, 2017 Niagara At Large reported that “more than one-third of all full-time college and university students in Ontario are receiving free tuition thanks to the new Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).”
Niagara College alone is reporting a record high enrolment of over 10,000 students. It is a shame that there may not be any faculty at Ontario’s colleges to teach these students.
The current contract for faculty at Niagara College and Ontario’s 23 other provincial colleges expires on September 30, 2017. At a vote held September 14, Ontario’s 12,000 college faculty gave their bargaining team a strike mandate.
One of the major issues that the union wants addressed is precarious work.
Despite enormous growth in student enrolment, full-time faculty have been disappearing from Ontario’s colleges to the point that 80% of college faculty are precarious, part-time workers. These workers are paid much less than their full-time counterparts, without pensions, benefits, or job security. They are hired for each semester, meaning that these workers have no idea whether or not they will have a job in four months’ time.
This is detrimental to college education in Ontario and not in the best interest of students. Because these workers cannot live on part-time college pay, faculty members may have several other jobs. This makes teachers less available to students. A student may go to his or her professor for help only to be told that the professor is unavailable because he or she is about to leave for his or her third job.
In the past a part-time teaching job at a college could lead to full-time employment, but this is no longer the case. In the Niagara College technology division four full-time faculty members have retired in recent years to be replaced by only one full-time hire. Job postings for additional administrators list responsibilities such as “sourcing and hiring part-time faculty”. The fact that the number of administrators employed at Ontario colleges has increased while full-time faculty numbers have fallen is indicative of managements’ priorities. Administrators do not contribute to the quality of education being delivered, yet management prefers to hire administrators to manage part-time faculty rather than hire full-time faculty.
The argument against hiring full-time faculty will undoubtedly be the cost involved, but this argument has already been demonstrated to be invalid. OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union) reports that despite chronic underfunding by the provincial government and an excess of administrative hires, 23 of Ontario’s 24 provincial colleges had budget surpluses last year, and that in recent years Niagara College has run surpluses between two to five million dollars.
In addition, the Toronto Star reported on January 24, 2017 that college executives had recommended “massive pay increases for their presidents.” Algonquin and Mohawk colleges proposed raises of more than 50 per cent while the presidents’ of Algonquin, George Brown, and Sheridan colleges would have seen salary increases of almost half a million dollars.
The argument for these enormous increases was that the colleges must attract and retain top executive talent. By this argument the college should be hiring full-time faculty with pensions and benefits packages in order to attract and retain skilled educators for their students. Management’s actions suggest that it prefers to invest in administrators rather than faculty.
The provincial government has been holding consultations throughout the summer on Bill 148, a labour bill that would require, among other items, that part-time workers performing the same work as full-time employees be paid the same as their full-time counterparts. Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Deb Matthews has confirmed that Bill 148 would apply to the college sector.
The provincial government could end up with egg on its face if management’s refusal to negotiate a contract that includes this provision leads to a faculty strike. If the remainder of Ontario’s workforce is getting equal pay for equal work, then there is no justification for denying it to college faculty.
Ontario students deserve better than teachers who cannot be there for them.
They deserve to be educated alongside professional educators with skills to impart, rather than by the best worker that can be found to work for little pay, no pension, no benefits, and no job security.
It is a shame that so many students have enrolled in post-secondary education only to find a strike looming that might cost them their semester. The provincial government has thought to provide financial assistance to students but neither the government nor college management seem to have considered those who teach them.
– Melissa McGlashan, South Niagara Chapter, Council of Canadians
Melissa McGlashan holds an Honours, Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Toronto including courses in fresh water ecology and genetics. Her involvement in politics began in March of 2016 with the fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This led to her involvement with the Council of Canadians, starting in October of 2016, through which she has become further involved with trade agreements and water protection. She is a daughter, sister, wife, and mother residing in Welland, Ontario.
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