Status quo prevails once again
By Jake Wray, News Editor
Colleges are nothing without students.
When Ontario colleges and the union representing college instructors began a bitter collective-bargaining dispute this fall, the students had most of the leverage because both the colleges and the instructors need them. The students could have heavily influenced—or even decided—the outcome of that dispute. They could have stood up for the worthy cause their instructors fought for. Instead, the students sat back and allowed the Ontario government to pass back-to-work legislation that crippled the instructors’ bargaining power.
Instructors were striking—in part—to reduce problematic part-time employment contracts. RM Kennedy, chair of the OPSEU college faculty division, said the union is fighting to reduce unstable contract employment for instructors, according to a CBC News report published October 30. He said 75 per cent of Ontario college instructors are precariously employed.
“That’s simply not viable, it’s not feasible,” Kennedy told CBC News. “There’s no operating model in the world that can operate a quality service and a quality product when 75 per cent of the workforce is on short-term contract.”
For years, professors across North America have been speaking out against increasing precarious employment, which causes stress and reduces education quality. Kimberly Hale, a part-time instructor at Wilfred Laurier University, had to re-apply for her job every semester for 16 years, according to a CBC News report published in 2014.
“I never imagined myself in this position,” she told CBC News. “Every four months I worry about how I’m going to put food on the table.”
The Ontario government used the well-being of students as justification for using legislation to end the strike. Deb Matthews, Ontario’s minister of advanced education, said in a government press release that students have “have borne the brunt” of the strike.
“After five weeks out of class, a significant number of students face the risk of not completing their academic studies if the strike were to continue,” Matthews said. “The public interest requires the government to take action to end the strike.”
If the government really cared about students’ well-being, they could have pressured the colleges to offer a fairer employment bargain to the instructors, which would have bolstered education quality in the province. Instead, the government chose to back the colleges (powerful institutions) and maintain the status quo (the raison d’être of white liberal governments).
The students, being the justification for the whole thing, could have stopped it by saying “No, we don’t support this legislation. We want a fair deal for our instructors.” The students could have gone on strike themselves by refusing to return to class once the legislation had passed. Instead they allowed themselves to be used as pawns, providing another victory for penny-pinching bureaucrats who control Canadian institutions collecting large bonuses while the labourers of those institutions languish as wages stagnate and job security evaporates. Does this story sound familiar?