Provincial hypocrisy on display
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | November 16, 2017|
We should know today (Thursday, Nov. 16) whether the longest college strike in Ontario’s history is coming to an end.
Members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) voted on an offer the day after The Highlander went to print.
To be honest, we’re a bit befuddled by the strike and the government’s handling of it. The union wants a minimum 50:50 ratio of full-time staff to part-time. Full-time faculty get benefits, job security and higher wages; part-timers get none of these things. The practice is rampant; colleges are just a few of the provincially-funded institutions in Ontario that use part-time or contract labour to avoid their own employment laws – ‘to maintain flexibility’ in bureaucratic parlance.
At the same time the Ontario government is hammering through The Better Workplaces, Better Jobs Act – supposedly to protect Ontario workers from employers who keep them on revolving part-time contracts to avoid paying benefits and deny job security. The province and its colleges are doing exactly that to some of their own graduates who now teach. The hypocrisy is very hard to swallow.
Our local college, the Haliburton School of Art and Design (HSAD), has been dragged into the fight because all of its two full-time faculty are members of OPSEU. The other 40 or so instructors are part-timers. It’s a microcosm of the fight being waged: is society better off with 40 or so part-time teachers who can’t earn enough to support themselves and live in fear of losing their jobs next month? Or might things be better with 24 full-time faculty, each earning enough to support a family and with the same job security and benefits enjoyed by HSAD’s administration? Which model is better for families? Which model would you like to work in?
Of course, it’s the students, the people paying for their college educations, who stand to lose the most from this fight. Most HSAD students travel to Haliburton for short-term study. They are often older adults, with families back at home. Some have taken leaves of absences from work. They are here, paying hefty rents thanks to a dearth of student housing. They are forgoing jobs back home. And as the strike enters its second month, they don’t know what to do. Should they go home? Should they stay? Can they afford to stay? Should they just give up on this year, go home and work for awhile and maybe try again next year? Should they just give up on their dream of bettering their lives via secondary education altogether?
So, we can understand why members of a noble profession like teaching are resisting their role in the new gig economy and the freedom it offers to not earn a decent living. Premier Kathleen Wynne is a former teacher who had all the advantages of full-time, permanent employment. She should understand more than most what that means in terms of raising a family or building a career. It’s unlikely she would be where she is now if she had spent most of her career chasing part-time gigs to pay her bills. It’s time for Wynne and the Ontario Liberals to have a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves if they’re practicing what they preach when it comes to Bill 148 and job fairness for Ontario’s citizens.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.