Opinion: Bill 148 offers hope to contract faculty at Ontario universities  Banner Image

Opinion: Bill 148 offers hope to contract faculty at Ontario universities

Article and photo from the Windsor Star
Opinion by: Gyllian Phillips and Fran Cachon

The Ontario government is currently considering changes to the province’s labour and employment laws that will improve working conditions for millions of Ontario workers, including those who work on university campuses.

The changes, detailed in Bill 148, are an important step forward, but need to be strengthened to address the true scope of precarious work faced by Ontario’s contract faculty and students. If the government acts now, it has an opportunity to update the legislation to make it even better, and ensure Ontario’s contract faculty are treated fairly and have decent jobs.

Ontarians expect universities to be good employers and role models in their communities. But for more than a decade, universities have been hiring more and more professors on short-term contracts, with low wages, no job security, and limited access to benefits. Estimates suggest that since 2000, the number of courses taught by sessional contract faculty has doubled at Ontario universities.

These sessional contract professors are paid significantly less than their full-time colleagues for teaching the same courses. Although Bill 148 provides a welcome commitment to the principle of equal pay for equal work, it also includes broad exceptions that will allow employers to avoid paying their contract and part-time employees equally. For Bill 148 to have a meaningful impact, these exceptions must be limited before the legislation is re-introduced in the fall.

Unequal pay isn’t the only challenge contract faculty face. After years – sometimes even decades – of employment at the same university, most contract professors still lack basic job security and are required to re-apply for their jobs every four months. When they are given a contract, it is often at the last minute and can be cancelled even after they have started teaching a class.

In addition, contract faculty are routinely denied access to their university’s group health benefits and pension plans – even if they are willing to pay for these benefits themselves.

These are not labour practices and working conditions to be proud of. They disproportionately affect women (who make up a majority of contract faculty at Ontario’s universities), undermine the ability of contract faculty to build secure and stable lives, and have real consequences for families and communities.

We believe Ontario’s publicly funded universities can and must be better employers. With some small changes, Bill 148 can ensure contract faculty receive equal pay for equal work, better job security, and fairer scheduling. Since faculty teaching conditions are student learning conditions, improving the treatment of contract faculty will improve the student learning experience.

Moving forward with an improved version of Bill 148 could make a real difference in the lives of faculty, staff, and students at our universities. This is not just about providing good jobs and fairness. It is about investing in the future of our universities by ensuring all professors are supported in the classroom so our students can continue to receive a high quality education that equips them to succeed.

Bill 148 is a step in the right direction but, with further changes, the government has a unique opportunity to improve the lives of millions of workers in Ontario.

Gyllian Phillips is president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations and an associate professor of English studies at Nipissing University in North Bay.

Frankie Cachon is chair of the OCUFA’s contract faculty and faculty complement committee and a contract professor in women’s and gender studies at the University of Windsor.