Bill 148 passes, bolsters efforts to address precarious work on campus

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Faculty across Ontario are pleased that legislation was passed today that will bring more fairness to workplaces. Ontario’s university faculty have long been advocating for improvements to provincial labour laws that would deliver fairness for contract faculty who face job insecurity, low pay, and lack access to benefits.

New rules in Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act aiming to ensure equal pay for contract, part-time, and temporary workers are encouraging for the growing number of professors working on short-term contracts. Throughout the process, OCUFA has been raising concerns about loopholes in the language that could be used by employers to avoid paying their contract workers fairly. Amendments addressed some of these issues, including eliminating a problematic definition of seniority and clarifying that workers do not have to do identical work to access equal pay protections. However, broad exemptions were left unaddressed, raising questions about how effective the equal pay provision will be when it comes into force on April 1, 2018 (or for unionized workers, the earlier of their collective agreement expiration or January 1, 2020).

Measures in Bill 148 governing the consolidation of bargaining units present new options for faculty associations with fragmented bargaining units. Newly organized faculty will now have the option of submitting a request to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) to be merged with an existing unit, which will help avoid further fragmentation going forward. Another provision allows for a review of the structure of existing units in the same union, but requires agreement from the union and employer to be initiated, which may limit its usefulness.

Other welcome advances in the legislation include a $15 minimum wage by 2019, expanded paid emergency leave, improved rules for organizing unions in some sectors, and modest fair scheduling rules. Faculty have been working in partnership with the Fight for $15 & Fairness and Ontario Federation of Labour to advocate for these broader changes and are proud to see decent work reforms move forward.

The next task at hand is ensuring these newly won rights are implemented effectively in workplaces across the province. When it comes to universities, the majority of Ontarians expect them to be model employers. Now that the government has put their commitment to equal pay on the table, there is more pressure on universities to provide fair pay to contract faculty.

It is disappointing that the abuse of fixed-term contracts is not addressed in Bill 148, because it is a central issue for professors working contract to contract. Even long-serving contract faculty, some who have been working at their institutions for 10 to 20 years, have to re-apply for their jobs every semester.

The recent college faculty strike brought the need for job security, equal pay, and respect for contract faculty into sharp focus. Just-in-time scheduling, job insecurity, and balancing multiple contracts do not set the higher education system up for success. Full-time faculty hiring needs to be brought back in line with enrolment growth, and contract faculty need to be better supported to deliver the high-quality education students deserve.

There is a growing sense of urgency in the postsecondary sector about addressing precarious work. With added confidence after the passage of Bill 148, students, faculty and staff across Ontario will continue to work together to protect quality education and ensure decent work for all.

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