The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) strongly condemns the tabling of back-to-work legislation by the new Ontario government aimed at the striking members of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 (CUPE 3903). We firmly support the rights of all academic workers to fair negotiations and good-faith collective bargaining, and are concerned with any attempts by government to interfere with the bargaining process.
This legislation marks the third time the Ontario government has attempted to interfere in public sector bargaining within the past year. The back-to-work legislation that ended last fall’s strike at Ontario colleges breached the constitutionally protected rights of workers to freely negotiate their agreements, and this new legislation will do the same. These actions undermine the collective bargaining process and encourage employers to avoid meaningful engagement in negotiations, resulting in longer future strikes and employers who stonewall while waiting for government bailouts.
OCUFA is particularly concerned with the clause in the “Back to Class” Act that prohibits the arbitrator from including any provisions that might protect employees from being discharged or disciplined for exercising their constitutional rights. Such a provision unduly ties the hands of the arbitrator and works against the principles of reconciliation and healing that are important for all parties as they try to move on. The arbitration and remediation processes should focus on resolving the issues and points of conflict between the two parties, and not encourage targeting and punishment of individual members of the bargaining unit.
Recent strikes and bargaining impasses at postsecondary education institutions are products of government underfunding and problematic hiring practices. The increasing number of precarious positions and erosion of working conditions on our university and college campuses are direct results of such practices.
The provincial government should focus on addressing and resolving these systemic issues through a sustainable and informed approach. Growing precarity, deteriorating working conditions, and the threats they pose to educational quality can only be resolved with commitment and investment from both postsecondary institutions and the Ontario government in consultation with workers. These challenges have not, and will never be resolved by undermining constitutionally protected collective bargaining rights.