Ontario’s part-time college staff to get bargaining rights

Public Sector Union says it comes "with a high price tag"

The Ontario government introduced legislation today which will allow the province’s over 17,000 part-time and sessional college workers to unionize.

The changes to the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) will remove provision that forbid part-time college workers from unionizing. The bill will also allow colleges to use replacement workers in the event of a labour dispute.

Last summer, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled there is a constitutional right to unionize making Ontario’s ban on unionization for part-time college workers unconstitutional.

In response, the government appointed Kevin Whitaker, Chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, to make recommendations on changing the CCBA. The legislation tabled today will implement those recommendations.

“A healthy and robust collective bargaining process serves the interests of students, college employers and workers. The Ontario government’s proposed legislation encourages all parties in the college sector to take greater responsibility for finding solutions to workplace challenges,” said Whitaker.

Thousands of college part-time workers have signed union cards to join Ontario’s largest public sector union, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

OPSEU says the legislation comes with a high price tag. The union is unhappy with provisions allowing colleges to use other workers in the event of a labour disruption. “It is pretty outrageous that this government thinks that recognizing the Charter rights of one group of workers means that another group of workers must give something up,” said OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

However, the union is calling on all parties to fast-track the legislation.

“Make no mistake about it, we want this bill passed into law as soon as possible,” says Thomas. “But we are definitely looking for changes to be made.”

Although consistent statistics are not readily available in Canada, it has been estimated that over one-half of college faculty in Ontario are part-timers. In the U.S., where more accurate statistics are published, 47.5 per cent of faculty were part-time in 2005, up from 46.3 per cent in 2003. Evidence seems to suggest that the trend is mirrored in Canada. The latest StatsCan data(from 1997-98)shows 10 per cent growth since 1990 while full time positions decreased.

These professors are paid a fraction of their fulltime counterparts, on a class-by-class basis. Part-time university professors receive between $6,000 and $13,000 per course depending on the institution and college sessionals make even less. They generally do not have benefits, pensions, or job security.

The Organization of Part-time and Sessional Employees of the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology complained about the ban on unionizing in a 2007 report. The report said that this law violates the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” However, although Canada signed the declaration, it is not law. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not specifically mention the right to form unions. Courts have not interpreted the right to “freedom of association” to guarantee the right to bargain collectively.

In November 2006, the International Labour Organization, a UN body, recommended that Ontario change the law.