Precarious work a growing issue for post-secondary staff, says study

by | Mar 16, 2018 | Faculty Strike, News


The Canadian Council for Policy Alternatives’ report showed temporary and permanent college academic staff face growing precarious employment.

Lindsay Charlton
Environment Reporter

Precarious employment is on the rise in post-secondary educational institutions.

In a study by the Canadian Council for Policy Alternatives, data from the Labour Force Survey shows a rise in unstable employment and that 53 per cent of post-secondary education workers in Ontario are in one way or another precariously employed.

The CCPA recognizes precarious employment as “characterized by lack of continuity, low wages, lack of benefits and possibly greater risk of injury and ill health,” the study states. “Measures of precariousness are level of earnings, level of employer-provided benefits, degree of regular protection and degree of control or influence within the labour process.”

The study mainly reflects on the unsteady work of part-time, partial-load and contract staff in the post-secondary sector.

The study indicates while more students are enrolling and the sector is growing, the opportunity for full-time employment is not. There has been a general decrease in the amount of permanent college staff, along with an increase in the number of temporary employees.

“It has been heading in that direction for a while now, and I think our (the Union) belief would be costs,” Stacey Merritt, Humber Faculty Union first vice president member said. “Non full-time faculty are less costly than full-time faculty for reasons of salary and benefits, like any part-time workers in any industry.”

She said that could be a significant driving force behind the rise of part-time and contract workers.

The number of employees facing instability is in fact increasing, specifically citing part-time and contract positions. The number of workers not holding multiple jobs or temporary jobs, or performing unpaid work has fallen 11 per cent since 1999, according to the study.

“Contacts are always maximum four months, and there is no knowing what can happen after,” said Humber Faculty Union officer Urszula Kosecka.

The study indicates a notable increase in the amount of post-secondary workers who hold multiple jobs, rising from a low of 5.9 per cent of the workforce in 1998 to 9.9 per cent of workers in 2016, citing these workers as “involuntary part-time workers.”

Kosecka echoed that, saying a huge majority of workers would prefer to have full-time positions rather than hold multiple jobs.

The unsteady employment conditions — where part-time and partial load teachers sign a new contract every term — and the inability to plan for the future can cause those working these positions to feel stress due to the lack of stability.

“Financial situations create a lot of stress. If you are trying to make ends meet without great benefits and a salary and basically living from month to month or living form semester to semester because they don’t know and they aren’t guaranteed [consistent] hours,” Merritt said. “There’s a lot of variables and obviously those variables create stress.”

With the recent strike at York, and the five-week strike at Ontario colleges last term, it is clear that many workers are unhappy and are looking for changes to be made across the sector. The new college contract signed in November led to the creation of a task force to review precarious employment and make recommendations to provincial cabinet. It’s first interim report is scheduled for May 18.

With too many contract workers, Kosecka believes the union will generally be growing and getting stronger.

“It’s a gradual process, we feel from a union standpoint in the college system that there were some steps taken with the arbitration ruling on the contract in the right direction, but there’s still a ways to go,” Merritt said.