By Muriel Draaisma
'Decent work is an education issue,' union leader tells reporters at Queen's Park
An Ontario government bill that aims to roll back labour reforms would make life more difficult for precariously-employed university and college students, staff and faculty, says an NDP MPP.
Chris Glover, A Toronto MPP who serves as the Official Opposition's universities critic, urged the provincial government to immediately withdraw Bill 47 on Monday.
The bill, dubbed the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, would repeal a planned minimum wage hike to $15 — an increase set to happen in January 2019 — while cancelling two guaranteed paid sick days for all Ontario workers. The Progressive Conservative plan has already passed first reading and is likely to be approved due to the government's majority.
"The students in our colleges and universities in Ontario, already faced with the highest tuition fees and highest debt levels, are potentially facing much higher costs for going to school," Glover told reporters at a Queen's Park news conference.
According to Statistics Canada, undergraduate students in Ontario paid more than $8,000 in tuition fees, the highest average in the country, as of the 2016/2017 academic year.
Other speakers said the bill will add to the financial insecurity facing college and university staff and faculty, many of whom work contract-to-contract with no health benefits or pensions.
According to Glover, more than half of university faculty members and more than 75 per cent of college faculty members are part-time, temporary contract workers.
Glover called the bill an attack on their rights.
Previous gains to be lost, union reps say
RM Kennedy, chair of the college faculty division at Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents more than 40,000 faculty and staff at colleges, agreed, saying: "Decent work is an education issue."
Labour reforms introduced by the Liberal government, under 2017's Bill 148, were "a good start," Kennedy said.
"For part-time support staff, many of whom are also students, paid sick days and a livable wage are needed to make ends meet," he said. "For contract college faculty, the equal pay raises that were achieved with Bill 148 have been life-altering."
These gains will be lost with the new legislation, he added.
"Students go to school so they can get good jobs, but the vast majority of faculty teaching them, ironically, do not have good jobs," he said.
"Thousands of Ontario college workers are looking at cuts to the improved wages, which they have only had a few months to experience."
The bill is "a step in the wrong direction," according to Kimberly Ellis-Hale, chair of the contract faculty committee of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, which represents 17,000 professors and academic librarians at 29 faculty associations.
Ellis-Hale said she has been working on 12-week contracts for most of the last 21 years. She said most contract faculty do not have desks to call their own, health benefits or pensions, or job security. Living contract to contract is extremely stressful, she added.
"We should be making progress in addressing fairness for contract faculty, not rolling back reasonable and essential elements to improve workers' rights," she said.
"If the premier is really here for the people, the hard-working, front-line people, and is truly committed to helping people like me make ends meet, then he should withdraw Bill 47."
Bill to weaken learning conditions, grad student says
Hamish Russell, an international graduate student at the University of Toronto and a member of Canadian Union of Public Employees, told the news conference that post-secondary students and workers juggle many jobs, high rents and demanding course loads.
The bill will not only erode working conditions, it will also weaken learning conditions, he said.