On Tuesday, May 23, the Ontario Government released the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review. The review was initiated in 2015 to consider the province’s existing employment and labour law and how it might be improved to address the growth of precarious work and create better conditions for workers. The rise of precarious work has been of particular concern to OCUFA because it is estimated that the number of contract faculty in Ontario has doubled over the past 15 years.
As part of the consultation process, OCUFA submitted five recommendations that would improve working conditions for faculty and academic librarians and strengthen the rights of workers to collectively organize and form a union:
- All workers, including part-time and contract workers, should receive equal pay for work of equal value and equal access to benefits.
- The use of discontinuous contracts should be eliminated.
- Employers should be required to provide employees with at least two weeks’ notice of work.
- The Ontario Labour Relations Board should be empowered to consolidate bargaining units.
- The Labour Relations Act should be updated to ensure workers can organize collectively to improve their conditions of work and join a union, including a return to automatic card-based certification, a requirement that employees punitively disciplined during organizing drives be reinstated, and making first contract arbitration more accessible.
The final report considers most of OCUFA’s recommendations and specifically highlights how engaged Ontario’s faculty have been in the process with “almost every Faculty Association in the province” making a submission. Unfortunately, although the report recognizes the urgent need for changes to Ontario’s employment and labour law, in many cases it recommends further study instead of action.
On the issue of equal pay for work of equal value, the report agrees that no employee should be paid a rate lower than a comparable full-time employee of the same employer. However, it recommends exemptions for workplaces where compensation is based on “objective differences” in work, which is concerning because it may be used to justify the exclusion of contract faculty.
On equal access to benefits, the use of discontinuous contracts, and the requirement for advanced notice of work, the report recognizes the need for reform, but only recommends further study.
OCUFA is pleased to see the report recommend empowering the Ontario Labour Relations Board to consolidate bargaining units. However, it does not suggest any requirement for union or bargaining unit consent and rejects suggestions that mergers only occur between bargaining units in the same union.
It is encouraging that the report repeatedly confirms the rights of workers to collectively organize and join a union. Unfortunately, it does not recommend a return to automatic card-based certification and instead provides a list of recommendations to counter employer interference in secret ballot votes.
While not referring to the reinstatement of employees participating in organizing drives specifically, the report recommends prioritizing investigations of punitive termination. Finally, the report recommends improving access to first contract arbitration.
As a whole, the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review leaves the concerns of Ontario’s precariously employed contract faculty largely unaddressed. While disappointing, the government has yet to announce the changes it intends to implement. Using the report as a foundation, OCUFA will continue advocating for changes to improve working conditions for faculty and academic librarians across Ontario.
Ontario’s employment and labour laws are outdated and this is an important opportunity to ensure new legislation improves on the recommendations in the report to reflect the priorities of Ontario workers and supports good jobs. OCUFA will continue working with other labour unions and community members as part of the Ontario Federation of Labour’s “Make it Fair” campaign and the Fight for $15 & Fairness to strengthen the rights of workers.
The OFL and Fight for $15 & Fairness are encouraging people to call, email, or meet with their MPP to urge them to support decent work. They have provided a list of MPPs and their contact information here.
The government is expected to formally respond to the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review shortly and announce the changes they intend to pursue. Once the details of that announcement have been made public, OCUFA will provide a more detailed analysis of the report and how it is informing the government’s policy agenda.