The high cost of equity pay hits Algonquin
$25M-a-year tab to close wage gap most of any Ontario college
Algonquin’s annual tab for implementing the province’s new equalpay law is by far the highest of any college in Ontario.
The province’s colleges are all scrambling to pay for Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, which requires employers to pay people who do substantially the same job the same wage. Colleges employ an army of contract instructors who are paid less than full-time professors.
Algonquin’s estimated $25-million annual cost for pay equity is $10 million more than the college with the next highest bill, Fanshawe in southwestern Ontario, which will pay an estimated $15 million a year, according to statistics compiled by the College Employer Council.
Large colleges in the Toronto area — Humber, Centennial, George Brown and Seneca — have the next highest bills, with annual pay-equity costs ranging from $9.2 million to $14.5 million.
Why is the cost of equal pay so high at Algonquin?
One reason is that Algonquin has paid its part-time instructors considerably less than the wages commanded at Toronto colleges, according to Duane McNair, the college’s vice-president of finance.
So boosting wages for contract staff to bridge the pay-equity gap will cost more.
Part-time instructors at colleges in the Greater Toronto Area have been paid 50 to 100 per cent more than those at Algonquin, McNair said at a town-hall meeting to discuss the impact of Bill 148. In some cases, Toronto-area colleges paid “more than double” the Algonquin rates, he said.
“In the GTA, because they are competing with each other for talent, they’ve been forced to increase their rates of pay.”
In contrast, Algonquin is the only English-language public college in town, he said.
“We’ve been able to attract the talent necessary at lower rates of pay.”
Individual colleges set the wages for part-time instructors who teach up to six hours a week, and sessional instructors who replace professors on leave. Algonquin publishes a pay scale for those employees. Centennial College said it would not make public that information, while officials at Humber, George Brown and Seneca did not respond to repeated requests to provide information about nonunion pay scales.
A third category of contract employee, the “partial load” instructors, librarians and counsellors who work seven to 12 hours a week, are represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union so their wages are standard across the province.
When faculty represented by OPSEU staged a five-week strike last fall, one of the main issues was the precarious status of contract faculty who work semester to semester.
Union officials applaud the payequity law.
“We have a provincial system with 24 individual (college) employers who then exploit people based on the labour market rather than the quality of education,” said JP Hornick, the chief bargainer for OPSEU. “When you have a market-driven system, a public system that is allowed to be subjected to the forces of the market, you end up with these disparities in pay.
“So if Algonquin had been underpaying its contract faculty simply because they can get away with it, then that becomes a moral and ethical question that we need to ask ourselves, in terms of what is the value of post secondary education?”
But Algonquin President Cheryl Jensen told a town-hall meeting on Bill 148 that she is in favour of pay equity, too. “I think that’s exactly what we should be doing. Equal pay for equal work is something that is important, and we shouldn’t feel at all badly about that.”
However, she warned that “everything is on the table” as the college looks for ways to shave expenses or earn revenue to pay the bill. Algonquin has already announced it will require fulltime professors to work more weeks each year, shave a week of instructional time from each semester, and suspend the intake of new students at seven underenrolled programs, most of them at the Perth campus. The college has also eliminated 12 administrative positions, Jensen said in a letter posted Tuesday.
However, unlike some other colleges, Algonquin has a healthy accumulated surplus of more than $73 million it plans to draw upon to mitigate the cost of pay equity.
The province says it will provide an extra $125 million to colleges in 2018-19 to help them “deliver quality programming that supports favourable outcomes for students while ensuring fair working conditions for staff,” according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Advanced Education & Skills Development.
The money can be used at the discretion of each college, said Aisling MacKnight, spokesperson for Minister Mitzie Hunter. “We understand that equal pay and quality are key priorities for the sector now, and we’re supportive of the money being used to support these important outcomes.”
It’s unclear how much of that $125 million Algonquin will receive. A spokesperson said the college did not have a breakdown of funding.
Much is still unknown about how Bill 148 will be implemented at colleges.
The costs compiled by the College Employer Council are estimates. They include the cost of pay raises for non-union contract staff, but not for the OPSEU partial-load faculty, said Don Sinclair, the CEO of the Council.
Equal pay for unionized staff is being negotiated provincewide between OPSEU and the Council. The two sides have a year to reach agreement, and if that fails, the issue will go to arbitration.
At the heart of that debate is what jobs are “substantially the same,” the language in the law that triggers pay equity.
“There are no rules around this,” said Sinclair. “The issue everyone is struggling with is, ‘what is the threshold for what is ‘substantially the same?’ Is it 80 per cent (the same)? Is it 90 per cent?”
It’s also difficult to compare rates of pay. Full-time professors earn a salary, while contract staff are paid by the classroom hour, but also spend time preparing classes and marking.
“The colleges are going to comply with Bill 148,” said Sinclair. “The challenge is that we have this new legislation, and everyone is working their way through it.”
At Algonquin, the work of calculating equal pay will be done in phases, said Jensen in her letter. Part-time and sessional academic employees will receive retroactive pay raises on May 18. An Algonquin spokesperson said she could not provide a tally of employees in those categories because the numbers are “constantly changing based on program demands and enrolment and can be calculated in different ways.”
Next up are calculations for part-time support staff, Jensen’s letter said.
The province has also appointed a task force to study the college system that will include an investigation of staffing models.
What is the equal-pay provision of the new law?
Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, requires employers to pay employees equally if they perform substantially the same work, requiring the same skill, effort and responsibility and performed under similar working conditions in the same establishment, regardless of whether they are part-time, contract or seasonal workers.
When did the equal-pay provisions come into force?
April 1, although for unionized employees the provisions can be implemented as late as 2020.
How does it affect colleges?
Ontario’s 24 colleges face a combined bill of $205 million a year to implement the changes required under the law. The vast majority of that cost — $185.9 million — is for the equal-pay provisions of the law.
FACULTY WAGES AT ALGONQUIN
Full-time professors: $62,717 to
$108,723 a year.
Partial-load instructors: They work from 7 to 12 hours a week and are unionized. An instructor for post-secondary programs earns anywhere from $55.10 to $84.23 an hour.
Part-time teachers and sessional instructors: Part-timers work up to six hours a week, while sessional instructors can work up to 10 months in every 24-month period and typically are hired to replace staff on leave. An instructor in either category teaching a postsecondary program earns $39.96 to $93.23 an hour, according to the Algonquin website.