The concept of equal pay for equal work has been a principle of labour relations for decades. It’s included in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It’s recognized in the European Social Charter and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
But according to the president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C., it’s far from universally recognized on B.C. postsecondary campuses. In a phone interview with the Straight, George Davison estimated that 3,000 of the 10,000 members of his organization are being paid less than their peers because they’re hired on contracts.
“Some of them are being paid 80 percent less than their regular colleagues,” Davison said.
The FPSE’s members include educators, researchers, artists, librarians, archivists, support staff, and IT technicians at 18 public-sector institutions. He said that 16 of these schools “have one form or another of problems” concerning contracted academics. The only two exceptions, according to Davison, are Langara College and Vancouver Community College.
“We’re not in bargaining right now,” Davison stated. “We’re just trying to raise awareness generally that this is unfair.”
He added that some FPSE locals have members who are paid on the provincial salary scale while under contract. Others, he insisted, are paid an hourly rate or a per-course rate that is significantly less.
“We would like pro-rata pay for these folks,” he said. “At this point, we’re not talking specifics about how to do it.”
The FPSE makes annual submissions to the legislature’s standing committee on finance, and it did some lobbying about this during Fair Employment Week last October. Davison said this isn’t something that can be brought up at the Labour Relations Board because it’s not a violation of the collective agreement.
But he pointed out that if a regular faculty member making $70,000 or $80,000 receives a two-percent raise, that’s a lot more money than the same percentage going to somebody earning $25 or $30 per hour. He said that instructors spend at least two hours of time outside the classroom on marking and lesson preparation for every hour they spend in front of the class making an hourly wage.
“A general observation is that women, people of colour, Indigenous instructors, and people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted negatively by the contracts,” Davison said.
Davison taught Canadian history at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George before becoming the FPSE president. He said that anyone who is interested in learning more about this issue can visit www.precariousprofsbc.ca/, which includes stories of current and former sessional instructors who’ve lived with the uncertainty of working on contract. The stories only include the instructors’ first names.
“People who stick their head up often get necks cut,” Davison noted.