The high cost of equity pay hits Al­go­nquin

$25M-a-year tab to close wage gap most of any On­tario col­lege

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - JAC­QUIE MILLER

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.

TONY CALD­WELL

Boost­ing wages to com­ply with Bill 148 will cost more at Al­go­nquin Col­lege than it will at any other col­lege in On­tario.

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