Thousands of post-secondary students will be writing mid-term exams this month, but it’s not only the students who need to evaluate what they are learning. Over three thousand contract faculty in BC, including educators just starting out in their careers, are learning that they are precarious labour who are paid less for doing the same work. The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators is taking part in the international campaign, “Fair Employment Week”, that draws attention to this issue and calls for change.
Unfortunately, this issue is not a new one. I was originally hired as contract faculty, on a short-term contract without benefits, and was paid less than other faculty who worked alongside me. Then in 1998, post-secondary unions came together and successfully negotiated language to ensure employers converted contract faculty to secure employees when they reached a minimum threshold. Although many employers tried to avoid their obligation to make contract faculty secure employees, our unions stuck together and successfully achieved job security for many contract faculty.
Having taken on this half of the problem – short term contracts – our federation is taking on the other half: paying contract faculty fairly.
Province-wide, approximately 30% of the college, institute and teaching university members represented by FPSE are contract faculty. That’s over 3000 people in BC in our federation alone receiving half the pay for doing the same work. Some contract faculty are paid 80 per cent less.
Lower rates of pay for contract faculty negatively impact both students and educators. The need to piece together work reduces availability to students. Additional financial hardship is imposed on racialized contract faculty who already experience racism in our society. Workers with low income have less financial ability to spend and participate in the local economy. There is an abundance of research that proves that when low income earners see their income increase, they increase their spending – much of which stays in the local community.
We all suffer from contract faculty being paid less – which means everyone benefits from contract faculty being paid fairly. Students have increased access to their educators. A barrier to the recruitment and retention of racialized educators is removed. Local economies benefit from workers being paid more.
The inherent lack of fairness in paying some people less for doing the same job is the same no matter the sector. We need to fight back against this culture of exploitation. Our contract expired earlier this year, and this issue will continue to be part of our ongoing bargaining discussions. We’ve always fought for educators to be treated fairly. We don’t intend to stop now.
No matter where you live in BC, I encourage you to take part in Fair Employment Week by showing your support online. If you haven’t already, sign our Fairness for Faculty petition here. If you have, please share our Fair Employment Week commentary on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #makeitfair.
Together we can make sure everyone who does the same work receives the same pay.
Terri Van Steinburg
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 19 public and 5 private sector institutions.