The status of academic labour relations in Canada: not so good

University of Manitoba

One year ago today, members of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association ratified an agreement after being on strike for three weeks. Seeking provisions on performance indicators, workload, and powers of Deans, UMFA members had voted 86% in favour of strike action. A further issue of deep concern was that the Pallister government had directed the university to extend its collective agreement by one year at 0%. As UMFA President Mark Hudson pointed out, such directives represent “illegitimate government interference in a constitutionally protected process of collective bargaining” and that the province had “unnecessarily endangered a complex negotiation through this misguided interference,” thereby jeopardizing the educational goals of the 29,000 students at U of Manitoba. UMFA made significant gains: the new collective agreement included workload protections, enhancements to collegial governance, and fair assessment practices.

Nonetheless, UMFA has charged the university with bargaining in bad faith during their contract negotiations because the provincial government had instructed the university to rescind a proposal that included wage increases, and replace it with a one-year agreement with a wage freeze. Their unfair labour practice complaint is proceeding.

Academic Labour Relations in Canada today

This fall has been particularly troubling with a number of strikes and strike mandates resulting from similar disputes in Canada over collegial governance by faculty members, fair workloads, compensation, the collective bargaining processes that help to protect those rights for academic faculty members, and the effects on students and their academic programs when these values are threatened.

Laurentian University

In September the Laurentian University Faculty Association received a strike mandate from its members with 91% of those voting in support of job action. Major issues in the labour dispute for LUFA included increased workload without extra supports to compensate, transparent governance with meaningful participation by faculty members, and a rollback in salaries. “Faculty are over-worked and under-supported,” the union said, “the university must enable us to provide a high-quality education to our students. We think the university should be run openly and transparently, with our meaningful participation. Our goal is to protect and promote a positive, enriching learning environment for our students.

LUFA president Jim Ketchen commented that “For over 35 years, LUFA and the university administration have, through our collective agreements, worked together to offer positive and enriching education to our students… LUFA wants to protect Laurentian’s learning environment from proposed rollbacks.”

After a 10-day strike, members of the Laurentian University Faculty Association ratified a new contract.

Teaching Faculty at University of Ontario Institute of Technology

The academics who are not in full-time tenure-track positions find themselves in particularly precarious working environments. Teaching Faculty Members at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, a small unit of teaching-intensive faculty with the highest teaching workload in Ontario, voted 85.7% in favour of taking strike action this October. Workload and work/life balance were the bargaining priorities for Teaching Faculty at UOIT, who had been negotiating for months to address their lack of job security, unreasonable workloads, and lower pay than tenure-stream faculty. Their mandate was simply to be treated fairly and equitably compared to their tenure-stream colleagues. “Is teaching excellence a priority at UOIT?” they asked. Just a few days ago on November 15, the Teaching Faculty unit was finally “heard” by the University and an agreement was ratified by both the membership and the Employer.

College Faculty in Ontario

After a five-week strike was ended over the weekend with back-to-work legislation, part-time college faculty in Ontario are returning to work today. The CAAT-Academic Divisional Executive of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union were striking for the right to academic freedom in their collective agreement, full-time employment, and a seniority system for their members who do not have full-time employment (70–80% of college faculty are contract and just 20–30% are full time).

Unlike universities in the province and other post-secondary institutions in Canada, Ontario’s public colleges concentrate both academic and administrative decision-making in administration rather than faculty. Contract faculty are particularly vulnerable to attacks on their integral role in the university. “Academic freedom—what should be the foundational value of every university and college—has never existed in the Ontario college system,” they explain, and as a result, “management exerts total control over academic decision-making. The impacts on students of how academic decisions are made—and who makes them—are far-reaching.”

Contract faculty sought equitability and fairness: there is no seniority system, and contracts are offered every 4 months. The employer’s proposed deal would increase the ratio of contract faculty, and OPSEU argues that colleges are using precarious work as a tool to cut costs, something that leaves students in an unfair situation where they’re now “paying more for reduced access to securely employed and fairly-compensated faculty who can focus on students’ needs in the short and long term.” OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas has stated, “We don’t want a Walmart model of education. It’s not good for students, and it’s not good for faculty.”

Acadia University Faculty Association strike mandate

On November 14, the Acadia University Faculty Association issued a strike deadline of Monday, November 27.

“After months of trying to get the university to bargain productively for a fair and equitable collective agreement, we have no choice but to call for legal strike action,” said AUFA President Stephen Ahern.

AUFA began negotiations in late March, but reached an impasse in June when the board refused to discuss key faculty proposals. AUFA filed for the assistance of a provincial conciliator in early September. After conciliation stalled on the first day, AUFA members voted 81% in favour of strike action.

The major outstanding issues for AUFA include restoring full-time faculty positions, addressing pay equity, achieving salaries in line with regional averages, and gaining a commitment to fundraise for a campus childcare centre. The board has rejected these proposals while asking for significant concessions, including clawing back the compensation of part-time faculty.


Many of these disputes contribute to a threat against collegiality—the participation of academic employees in academic governance. Collegiality depends on academic freedom, fair workloads, and treating academic employees as conscientious professionals whose expertise and participation in academic matters is both valued and exercised.

“At a time when the importance of academic standards is higher than ever, it is untenable that faculty remain marginalized from academic decisions,” wrote Kevin MacKay, Vice-President of OPSEU Local 240 last June. “The time for collegial governance, for elected, faculty-majority senates in each college, and academic freedom for individual faculty, is now.” Today is a sad day for Ontario college faculty. USFA stands in solidarity with all faculty members who are fighting for and defending these fundamental principles of collegial governance.