I wanted to update you on WLUFA’s engagement with the provincial government and how the recently proposed legislation will affect you. I’m afraid the news is bad.
I’ve sent out a few notes already on our “consultations” with the Ford government: the February consultation on “double dipping”, the May consultation on salary increases and now a June consultation of “faculty renewal”. None of these consultations have involved any sharing of information or debate about policy. Instead, the government indicates what it wants to do and holds “consultations” and asks for suggestions on how it might best achieve its goal. As you may have heard, during the press conference where the salary cap was introduced, Peter Bethlenfalvy, President of the Treasury Board, discounted all the criticism and challenges to the government’s approach which the consultations generated. It is clear that these are consultations in name only.
For the last several months, the faculty associations have pushed officials to give us answers and explanations and they have been consistently refused. Minister Fullerton never spoke with representatives from employee groups, including OCUFA. Communication with COU, the organization which represents the employers, were only marginally better. It is alarming that COU has refused to oppose the government, although we know that individual universities are as distressed over the Ford government’s actions as we are. We can only hope that the situation will improve with a new minister and that COU will locate its missing spine. Universities and their faculty have to work together if we have any hope of preventing further ravages to post-secondary education in this province.
So what have we seen so far?
On 5 June, the President of the Treasury Board introduced Bill 124 imposing a 3-year cap on compensation for employees in the “broader public sector.” Some colleagues have asked how the legislation will affect university faculty. Here are the key points:
The bill as introduced for first reading does cover all members of the Association. It does not override existing agreements, but applies for three years from the time your contract comes up for renegotiation (for contract faculty that’s 31 August 2019, for full-time it’s 1 July 2020).
The legislation sets a limit on compensation increases in any new collective agreement. It also prohibits increases greater than 1% during the period prior to the legislation being passed ( i.e. from 5 June until the legislation is passed) and also during a “moderation period” even after the legislation expires (in order to prevent catch-up wage settlements). It limits combined increases to 1%, whether in existing or in “new” compensation — that is, we cannot create new streams of compensation for existing positions. What should also be kept in mind is that compensation is a broader concept than salary; under the proposed legislation it also includes benefits and other discretionary payments.
The legislation does not apply to salary increases due to length of time of employment, to performance assessments (merit) or to increases that are tied to the completion of additional professional training. However, no new grids or merit bonuses can be introduced and existing ones fall under the 1% limit on total compensation increases. This means that employees are prohibited from securing merit or length of employment increases in a new contract that are more than 1% above the levels established in the previous contract.
It should be noted that this is draft legislation, so it may still change.
With the legislation on salaries prepared, the government has returned to the issue of “double dipping,” a matter we’d hoped we’d put to rest in February. Although the Ministry has not acquired new data or greater wisdom over the last 5 months, it has dramatically broadened the scope of what it is preparing to do.
On 24 June, Kimberly Ellis-Hale and I participated in a consultation with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities on what it now calls “faculty renewal.” Unfortunately, however, the government’s focus seems to be on inducing professors over 65 to retire; it has no solid plans for the “renewal” part of the equation. At least not yet.
The consultation on this issue was a bit different from the one dealing with the salary cap because we talked to representatives from the Ministry rather than a consulting firm. Maybe I’m imagining it, but the Ministry representatives seemed to realize how ill-prepared they were to craft legislation: they have no idea how many faculty there are collecting salary and pension, don’t know what percentage of all faculty are over 65, have undertaken no studies, and have no plans to undertake any studies. Although they are calling it “faculty renewal”, they have no plan for how they are going to link faculty retirements to job creation. For data, the government is relying on a HEQCO report that is based on a COU report that, by its own admission, was incomplete and could not be used as a basis of policy (the COU link is dead, but the HEQCO report can be found here.)
Despite the fact that the government has no reliable data on the issue and has not figured out how to deal with the diversity of pension plans in the sector, or how to avoid an overt violation of charter rights, it is primed for action. The current plan is for the government to somehow prevent faculty members over 65 from earning more in “total salary + pension income” than their salary. It is not clear how this would be achieved or whether it would affect all sources of pension income (for example, a faculty member could transfer a university pension to an individual or group RRSP and draw from that source). It is not clear how it would apply to a faculty-member teaching more courses on stipend + collecting a pension or to non-university derived pensions. Could a faculty member who’d switched universities collect a pension from one and a salary from another? Could the government force the university to reduce your salary if you withdrew cash from your RRSP while working? Though the answers to the above questions have yet to be answered, the proposals we’ve received grant the government a shocking level of sweeping investigatory powers into personal finances, which does seem to suggest a desire to somehow cap “total compensation,” including personal pensions and those from previous employers.
Many of you probably think that faculty should not collect a pension when they are working. But keep in mind that your pension is deferred salary – you negotiated it and you paid into it. The portion paid by the institution might have gone to you as salary if it hadn’t been negotiated into a pension plan. If the government prevents you from collecting your pension when you want to or, in the case of faculty over 71, simply seizes it, it is restricting your right to the money you put away for yourself. This is, in essence, a violation of plans you made, and agreements you entered into, as an employee and a citizen, regarding your retirement savings.
OCUFA delivered a powerful statement against the government’s proposal and all the faculty association representatives spoke against it. It was clear to all of us that the Ministry had no idea how it was going to design an age-based limit on total compensation, but the bureaucrats are under political pressure to do so.
This measure, like the cap on salary increases, is an attack on your rights under the Charter and, as unionized workers, your rights to collective bargaining (cf. Supreme Court decision re: the Charter and Collective Bargaining). Our right to negotiate and, if need be, to strike to secure better salaries or benefit values will be removed by the proposed legislation. Our freedom from discrimination on the basis of age will be curtailed.
As your union Executive, we’ll continue to fight — alongside the provincial and national associations — to try and stop the Ford government’s attack on universities and those working for them. I’ll keep you informed as I learn more,
All the best,