Collective bargaining rights at last for college part-timers

Ontario will introduce legislation in 2008 following review by Kevin Whitaker

Toronto (31 Aug. 2007) - The Ontario government announced Thursday it will extend collective bargaining rights to part-time college workers, a major victory in the ongoing struggle to recognize labour rights as human rights in Canada.

The announcement was greeted with celebration by activists who have been working tirelessly to win the same rights for part-time staff that full-time employees enjoy.

The fight to organize the approximately 17,000 part-timers (on 24 college campuses) was led by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE). It provided assistance and support when the Organization of Part-time and Sessional Employees of the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (OPSECAAT) was formed last November to spearhead the campaign.

The news was welcomed by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "I congratulate all the dedicated activists who worked so hard to achieve this breakthrough," said NUPGE president James Clancy.

Review by Whitaker

Colleges and Universities Minister Chris Bentley said the Liberal government in Toronto will introduce legislation following "a broad review" of the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) by Kevin Whitaker, chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

Whitaker has been instructed to make recommendations by the end of February of next year with legislation to follow sometime after that.

"The review will examine the current act and whether it enables Ontario's colleges to meet their mandate, to respond to changing needs of students, employers and their local communities and to establish and maintain good labour relations," Bentley said.

OPSECAAT - Campaign to end discrimination

OPSEU currently represents 15,000 full-time academic and support staff at provincial colleges.

“College workers spoke out for education quality and fairness, and the government listened,” says OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

“This will benefit all workers in the colleges, and the students, by creating a better environment to both work and learn. We are going to take this as a promise by this government to improve education in Ontario."

OPSECAAT president Roger Couvrette said the announcement culminates many months of hard work by organizers.

“My appreciation goes out to this government for recognizing the need to provide fairness for workers and quality education for students. This announcement comes because college workers worked hard and made it clear this was an issue of education quality in our colleges,” Couvrette added.

The decision follows a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in June recognizing collective bargaining as a human right in Canada. It also follows a ruling in favor of the part-timers by the Geneva-based International Labour Organization.

Completion of the review, and the subsequent legislation, will depend on the outcome of the Oct. 10 Ontario election. The provincial New Democratic Party has traditionally supported expanded rights for workers. However, the Conservatives have generally opposed, and often rolled back, reforms for working people.

Barbara Taylor, chair of the colleges' committee of presidents, pledged to co-operate with the review. "At the same time, the colleges will continue to remind the Ontario government that colleges receive the lowest per-student revenues in Canada, and that colleges need additional resources to meet the demands of students, employers and colleges," she said. NUPGE

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