College students and striking faculty face same challenges with precarious work

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Colleges must commit to quality education by boosting the percentage of full-time faculty and paying contract workers the same as their full-time colleagues
Oct. 26, 2017.   By RAWAN MALAK, CHRIS GRAWEY, SILVIU RILEY

We are students at four Ontario colleges and our faculty are on strike. We are keen to get back to class, but we do not want to return to our studies until fairness is achieved for college faculty. We understand that our instructors’ working conditions impact the quality of our education.

In this strike, we are not neutral. We support our faculty.

We know the reality of precarious work. Many students work multiple part-time jobs to get by and to pay our tuition fees. We need fair scheduling rules to plan around our class schedules and exams. We know from our own work experience that too many part-time, temporary and contract workers are being paid less than their full-time colleagues for the same work. This is why we have been part of the province-wide movement fighting for a $15 minimum wage and decent working conditions.

We are fighting for the same things that our faculty are standing up for in this strike.

Delivering quality education is difficult when you’re working from one four-month contract to the next, have few or no benefits, and aren’t given adequate time to prepare for the courses you’re teaching. Yet these are the working conditions of contract instructors at our colleges, who now make up more than 70 per cent of all faculty.

Making matters worse, faculty working on short-term contracts are not being paid fairly. The average contract faculty pay for a full-time teaching load is less than $30,000, while some instructors earn just above the minimum wage after accounting for all of their job-related responsibilities. As full-time faculty positions have been eliminated, the number of administrative positions at Ontario colleges has increased by more than 77 per cent between 2002 and 2015.

At the heart of this strike is the need for our colleges to commit to quality education. This means committing to the faculty and staff that deliver our education and teach our classes. Faculty are also worried about the quality of our education. We support their call for a voice, alongside students, in academic decision-making.

We understand that our faculty are better placed to support and mentor us when they have full-time positions and are treated with respect. We’ve heard that just-in-time scheduling can leave our instructors with as little as one day’s notice to prepare a course. Many of our instructors do not have offices or phone numbers and others share desks with several colleagues. This makes it more difficult for them to be available to students. When courses are done their contracts also finish, leaving many instructors unreachable to students seeking feedback or reference letters.

When our colleges rely on contract workers, it’s not good for students or faculty.

While our professors are stuck in precarious jobs, we are also worried about our own future. We are facing rising rents, low wages, and unstable work. Something needs to be done. A course correction is needed that brings fairness to all workplaces in Ontario.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has taken encouraging steps towards supporting decent work in Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. It even includes a commitment to the principle of equal pay for contract workers. The college faculty strike shows why this is so important. Unfortunately, the equal pay provision in the current legislation is not strong enough.

If Wynne’s government is serious about fairness for workers, they need to strengthen the equal pay provision to ensure it will be effective before they pass the bill in the coming weeks. As young workers, we understand how important it is to close the loopholes and exemptions in Bill 148. We’ve worked in part-time and temporary jobs where our work is not valued equally. Strong equal pay provisions will help bring equity to the workplace, especially for women and workers of colour.

Our colleges have an opportunity to get ahead of the law and be leaders on this issue. They can commit to equal pay for contract workers now.

The College Employer Council needs to get back to the bargaining table and agree to a fair deal that addresses fairness for contract faculty and provides a voice for students and faculty in decision-making. That’s what will get faculty and students back in the classroom.

Paula Greenberg is a Humber College student; Rawan Malak is a George Brown College student; Chris Grawey is a Mohawk College student; and Silviu Riley is an Algonquin College student.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2017/10/26/college-students-and-striking-faculty-face-same-challenges-with-precarious-work.html

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