From the President: Provincial Proposals Looming

This blog entry was actually posted on December 3, 2015.

This article is from WLUFA Advocate 1.1 October 2012.

Here is the first in our new series of newsletters which we hope you will find informative and an enjoyable read. Much of this first newsletter will be devoted to addressing issues around the Integrated Planning and Resource Management (IPRM) initiative. There are several contributors working on that issue so I will leave it up to them to fill you in on the recent developments on that issue. For this issue, my role is to tell you about the proposals that are coming down from McGuinty’s Provincial Liberal government. These proposals are very far-reaching and could potentially change the nature of our universities in the future.

Wage Constraint Proposal

The first proposal is facetiously entitled ‘Respecting Collective Bargaining Act (Public Sector), 2012 and is Section 2 of the draft ‘Protecting Public Services Act, 2012’. If enacted, Section 2 of the Act would apply to university employers and all bargaining units on campus, including those that represent academic and non-academic staff. In total 2,295 collective agreements representing 480,000 workers would be affected. The Act would apply to the first collective agreement reached following its enactment and be-fore its termination. The termination of the legislation is proposed as the date on which the Ontario government deter-mines that the deficit has been eliminated, which could be in 2018.

Each new collective agreement must be at least two years in length, and each would be subject to the scrutiny of the Management Board of Cabinet which would issue ‘mandates’ that set out criteria by which employers and bargaining units would be required to negotiate a new collective agreement. The goal of the mandates is to ensure that any new collective agreement ‘is consistent with the Province’s goals to eliminate the deficit and protect the delivery of public service’ [Section 5(1)]. The criteria would address compensation and service delivery and any other matters the Management Board of Cabinet considers appropriate. In other words, the mandates may address both monetary and non-monetary provisions. It is expected that the mandates will require 0% wage settlements for at least two years and, likely, any movement through the salary grid (CDIs) and performance-based compensation (merit pay) would not meet the provincial criteria. Unbelievably, it would also prohibit the $120 seniority increment for any CAS members who achieve seniority for the first time after the legislation comes into effect. The draft legislation would also prohibit catch-up provisions (e.g. 0 for two years followed by an increase of some percentage).

Once a collective agreement has been reached, the employer would be required to submit a copy of the agreement to the Minister for review. Failure to meet the criteria would result in the collective agreement being referred back to the parties for amendment. If no agreement can be reached that fulfills the criteria set out in the mandate, the Minister, following consultations with the employer (not the employee group) may impose a collective agreement on the parties.

Depending on the specific criteria set out in the mandate, the extent to which articles could be changed through negotiations would be limited and, moreover, although strikes have not been directly banned under the proposed legislation, as a practical matter the Minister’s powers to impose a collective agreement would have the effect of rendering strike action illusory and, once imposed, would render any further strike activity unlawful.
In order to pass, the Act requires the support of either the NDP’s under Andrea Horwath or the Conservatives under Tim Hudak. The NDP are unlikely to support the legislation, and Hudak has already indicated that he considers the pro-posed legislation to be “toothless” and so is seeking amendments that would break existing collective agreements and impose the wage constraint immediately, something that the Liberals are avoiding so as to reduce the risk of costly court challenges from unions that would result in a threat to public services.

You will be kept informed regarding possible responses to these proposals.

Proposed Changes to University Pensions:

A second piece of legislation that directly affects university academic and non-academic staff concerns our pensions. The government is proposing legislation to create a province-wide Jointly Sponsored Pension Plan (JSPP) for the university sector. The purpose of the JSPP is to pool the assets of existing pension plans as a way of exploiting efficiencies and economies of scale, so as to reduce the management costs associated with ad-ministering individual pension plans. The suggested advantages include gaining access to more sophisticated investment skills and instruments in light of the much larger pool of investment funds.

Under our existing plan, the Administration must bear the costs associated with our pension plan but under the JSPP proposals, members would be required to share the costs on a 50/50 basis with the pension sponsor. This could have the effect of raising members’ contributions above the existing rate.

OCUFA has retained Eckler Ltd (Consultants and Actuaries) to provide detailed information on the possible changes to our pension scheme and their impacts on our members during two live webinars later in October. Each webinar will have an interactive portion during which members may ask questions, and each webinar will be repeated on the day following the first webinar.

We will advise you of the times and dates of these webinars.

Transformational Change:

The third challenge we are facing relates to the government’s “transformational change” agenda promoted by the Minister of Training Colleges and Universities, Glen Murray. His proposals do not identify the challenges the proposed reforms are meant to address, but it became apparent during summer workshops that the goal of the discussion paper is cost containment. The government is attempting to accommodate rising enrollments and preserve educational quality without investing additional funds, which it claims will be achieved by increasing efficiency mechanisms and the ‘redeployment of resources’.
The government document suggests that proposals may include a more labour-market ready three-year degree program for students; funding based on learning outcomes rather than the current system of funding per student based on the nature of the program in which they are en-rolled; and an expansion of online education across the entire university sector, even in the face of evdence which suggests that while students find online courses useful they are a poor substitute for in-class face-to-face learning.

The Minister argues that Ontario universities are not innovative and that they are insufficiently productive. In reality, faculty are demonstrating a high degree of pedagogical innovation every day and the sector has made remarkable gains in productivity over the past decade. On average, we teach 22% more students than we did in 2000, Ontario university operating costs are 13% lower than the Canadian average, and faculty salaries per student are 18% below the rest of Canada (OCUFA, 2012). We also have the highest student-to-faculty ratio (28:1). Ontario’s professors are educating more students than anywhere else in the country with fewer resources – clearly a textbook example of enhanced productivity.

Ontario’s university administrations were required to submit Strategic Mandate Agreements to the MTCU, which will be evaluated (though the criteria have not been made clear) for universities that demonstrate innovative behavior to share in a $30 million pool of money. WLU’s Strategic Mandate Agreement is available at this link:

http://www.wlu.ca/documents/52561/LAURIER_SMA_October5_FINAL_2.pdf

WLUFA will keep you informed regarding all of these proposed changes in future newsletters.

Judy Bates

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