Unity Group holds event for Fair Employment Week

Vanessa Brown

In a show of solidarity, members of UWOFA gathered with other campus unions in October to celebrate Fair Employment Week and push for labour law reform.

The public forum was organized by the Unity Group of campus employee groups representing facilities management, teaching assistants and postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, university staff, faculty members and librarians and archivists. Members of the UWOFA Faculty Representatives Council and Librarians and Archivists Stewards Council also helped make the event a success.

The event drew attention to Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017. In the summer and fall months UWOFA urged Members of Provincial Parliament to vote in favour of the Bill, which includes a minimum wage increase to $15 in 2019, equal pay provisions for part-time employees doing the same work as their full-time counterparts, fairer scheduling, and rights for all workers to join a union without threat of reprisal. The Bill became law in November.

“I believe precarious employment must be ended in all sectors of our economy, but of course it is the education sector that affects all of us most personally,” said Ann Bigelow, a contract faculty member and past president of UWOFA who spoke at the event. “Universities, including Western, have been hiring more and more professors on short-term contracts with low wages, no job security and limited access to benefits.”

The advocacy event marks the first time the Unity Group has gathered together for Fair Employment Week, an annual, weeklong campaign begun by the Canadian Association of University Teachers more than a decade ago.

“We are very excited that these unions came together in support of fair employment,” said UWOFA president Stephen Pitel. “This event is timely for many reasons, one of which is the strike by Ontario’s college faculty members currently underway, because fairness in employment is front and centre as an issue in that dispute. Across Ontario we must strive to replace precarious jobs with secure jobs.”

Earlier in the week UWOFA’s Committee for Contract Faculty set up a table in the Social Science Centre and spoke with students about the issues affecting contract faculty members at Western. According to the university’s most recent numbers, about 40 per cent of undergraduate courses are taught by contract faculty members. Some of these professors are paid only per course taught and have to teach at multiple universities to achieve a living wage. Many also do not have benefits or job security. They often share that they feel shut out of the regular workforce and undervalued in the university community. Indeed, this is a common concern among contract workers in other sectors of the Ontario workforce.