Taxpayers’ dollars fund precarious employment

In our name, our various levels of government have created an entrenched and scandalous tradition of exploiting workers in at least two economic sectors: one is the tertiary education sector which includes both the universities and the community colleges; and the other is the not-for-profit sector.

I said “in our name” because governments manage our society’s affairs as our elected representatives and therefore make us complicit in any unethical decisions, policies and practices in which they engage. This also means we have the right and responsibility to hold them accountable for actions and attitudes of which we strongly disapprove.

That is why I took the liberty of using “scandalous” and “exploiting” to describe the treatment meted out by Ontario’s tertiary level educational institutions to their temporary / part time / outsourced personnel.  For example, their temporary / part-time teaching personnel can teach the same or similar courses for years on end, without earning the salary and benefits that should be their due given their qualifications, experience and the many facets of the responsibilities attached to their teaching functions.

They have to re-apply every year to teach their courses and most of them never gain access to permanent appointments for which they are eminently qualified.

That brazen degree of inequity is verbally and visually set out in a full-page advertisement recently published in a daily newspaper under the headline “It takes a few at the top to keep thousands at the bottom”.

The ad emphasizes the starkness of the inequality by showing a picture of a crowd of college workers, below pictures of the presidents of seven community colleges with their names, salaries and the names of the colleges they head.

Though that ad features all categories of college workers, the principle quoted in it is clearly consistent with the point I am making. The relevant quotation is: “Ontario’s community colleges promise students a good job and a bright future. It’s time they delivered those opportunities to their own workers.”

I have been harping on this obscene and vulgar case of exploitation for some time and I don’t intend to stop. It is unacceptable to simply argue that the tertiary institutions do not have adequate funds, when one looks at the salaries and benefits of the permanent academic and administrative staff.

It is even more reprehensible that the availability of a “surplus” of highly qualified persons in our society is being used to justify and perpetuate the meager salary and benefits offered to temporary / part time / outsourced personnel. At the very least, a policy of phased-in enhancements of their terms and conditions of work is in order.

The same analysis, criticism and recommendation apply to the terms and conditions of workers in the not-for-profit sector. It is inconceivable that a government should be indirectly but knowingly condoning the insecure and inequitable employment practices that are widespread in this sector. By its very purpose and vocation, a government is intended to legislate, regulate and enforce fair and equitable terms and conditions of employment for society.

That matter was a source of great and well-founded concern to the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto and the Community Social Services Campaign. They collaborated in the preparation of a major report entitled Heads Up Ontario! Current Conditions and Promising Reforms to Strengthen Ontario’s Nonprofit Community Services Sector.

While I take due note that that report is focused on community service organizations (not the larger, billion-dollar, not-for-profit organizations), I choose to highlight four of the findings in the report as being most relevant to the current context:

“The sector is now one of the most dependent areas of our economy on part-time precarious work arrangements.

“Wage rates are consistently below those of other public and private sector comparators, and in some cases are below the poverty line. Wages and benefits have been essentially stagnant for the last decade, as inflation climbed by more than 23%. Some workers have seen absolute reductions in pension and other benefits; many others have no pension or benefits at all.

“The administrative infrastructure of organizations has been hollowed out to stretch resources to shore up programs underfunded by government.”

As if those aren’t serious enough indictments against the policies in place in Ontario over the decades, the most damning  conclusion in the report in my opinion is this: chronic underfunding by governments  in Ontario “[continues] to reinforce low wage, gendered employment ghettos, leading to further decline in working conditions and threatening the loss of a skilled and committed workforce.”

There it is: an ongoing, structural, socio-economic disaster.

By the way in which our governments are in fact outsourcing the delivery of educational and community services, they are co-conspirators in the creation and consolidation of precarious employment.