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Nearly four weeks into a protracted faculty and staff strike at Ontario’s 24 public colleges, one teacher from a Toronto school wants the public to better understand what is at the heart of the dispute.
That’s because provincial labour law dictates that after year-long contracts expire, administration must hire them on full time if they are to continue teaching. Alternatively, if they aren’t given a permanent position, they must wait about a year before they can accept another contract at the same college.
Alibhai estimates that between about 70 per cent or more of faculty in his ESL department are working on a contract.
The ubiquity of contract work for college professors and instructors can only be explained by one motivation, Alibhai argues.
“We are significantly cheaper to employ, compared to full-time professors. Even though we teach the same classes, and do the same amount of work, and teach the same number of hours, but we get paid significantly less, in some cases less than half of what full-time teachers make,” he said.
A representative of the College Employer Council, which negotiates on behalf of the institutions, told CBC Toronto that both sides in the talks are under a “media blackout” and therefore will not comment. The council and the Ontario Public Services Employees Union returned to the bargaining table last Thursday after a two-week standoff that has students frustrated that the strike may compromise their short-term career plans.
Alibhai understand students’ anger, acknowledging the strike puts them in a very difficult position. He added, however, that under the current working conditions at most of Ontario’s colleges, students’ education is being undermined by a reliance on session teachers.
“Ultimately, the students suffer too,” he said, explaining it’s not uncommon for a contract teacher to be handed materials for a course the night before it begins.
When the strike will end is still front of mind for students. While neither side is commenting publicly, Alibhai told CBC Toronto that “it seems like the teachers and the colleges are still far apart.”