Contract faculty want labour reform Bill 148 to end perpetual contract status

Contract faculty at universities across Ontario are asking for changes to the proposed Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (also known as Bill 148), giving them more job security and an end to careers based on perpetual sequential contracts.
Kimberly Ellis-Hale has been teaching at Laurier University in Waterloo since 1998. She says she has to re-apply for her job every four months. (Leonardo Palleja/CBC)

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo examines and presents perspectives on Ontario's proposed Bill 148, a revision of labour standards in Ontario.

For the last 20 years, Kimberly Ellis-Hale has only been able to plan her life one four-month chunk at a time. 

In that time, she's signed nearly 100 contracts with Wilfrid Laurier University but has never become staff. 

"And that means that you sit and you hold your breath. You wait to find out if you've got the work. You wait to find out if it's going to be a good summer because you have teaching, if it's going to be a horrible summer because you're going try and slide through without that income," Ellis-Hale told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. 

"We don't know, one term to the next."

What's worse, she told The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris, is that even when she gets a contract there are no guarantees until two weeks after the course has started. 

"The university can cancel up to the middle of August and pay me $500. They can cancel up to two weeks before class and compensate me $1000," said Ellis-Hale. "And then they can still cancel up to two, two-and-a-half, weeks once class has started."

"So it's not until you actually get a quarter of the way into the term that you can really feel secure that you have work for the next few months."

Half of students taught by contract faculty

University contract instructors, like Kimberly Ellis-Hale, have little job security, no health or dental benefits but teach almost half of students at Wilfrid Laurier University. (Courtesy: Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association)
According to numbers Ellis-Hale and fellow contract faculty member Anne-Marie Allison provided to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs on Tuesday, contract faculty teach more than 40 per cent of classes at Wilfrid Laurier University. 

They teach about 50 per cent of students, and cost the university four per cent of revenue, said Allison and Ellis-Hale. They are also paid about half the amount as their staff colleagues, if those salaries were divided by teaching term.

"It's obviously cheap labour, it's easy for them to hire us," said Allison. "They know there is a demand for this kind of work, there are people who get their Ph.Ds and their Masters degrees and are aspiring to academics. They think that they have opportunities."

OCUFA recommends changes to Bill 148

It's a problem not unique to Wilfrid Laurier University.

On Thursday, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations — which represents 17,000 professors from every university in Ontario — submitted its recommendations for changes to the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (also known as Bill 148).

According to a news release by OCUFA, those recommendations are that:  

  • All workers should receive equal pay and have equal access to benefits, regardless of their employment status as contract, part-time, casual, or temporary.
  • The use of sequential or discontinuous contracts to prevent the achievement of workplace rights should be eliminated.
  • Employers should be required to provide workers with at least two weeks' notice of work.
  • The Ontario Labour Relations Board should be empowered to redefine the scope of bargaining units or consolidate bargaining units that are in the same union.
  • The Labour Relations Act should be updated to ensure workers can organize collectively to improve their conditions and join a union.

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