The Public Service Alliance of Canada’s (PSAC) campaign to win fair wages and working conditions for post-doctoral researchers (post-docs) at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, Canada, reveals much about the downward push on the conditions of academic workers in Canadian universities in particular and academics in general.
‘Postdoctoral Associates at UWO been trying to negotiate a first collective agreement for two whole years and negotiations have stalled once again. They are being offered a mere $10.93 an hour – that’s only 68 cents above minimum wage for highly trained academics with PhDs!’ [From PSAC National’s website: (http://psac.com/news/2011/bargaining/20110627-e.shtml)%5D
The conditions faced by the post-docs at UWO are similar to the increasing situation of knowledge workers and academics throughout much of the English-speaking/Anglophone world: the conditions that academics and students in the UK are facing are truly bleak (though there is hope in the organisation and solidarity across institutions and groups, as the attacks on the public sector have broadened out to include virtually every sector of the public and civil service).
At Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario (about one-hour’s drive from UWO), contract faculty (known as Contract Academic Staff or CAS) are waiting for early September to ratify a new contract that was recently negotiated after their last contract expired almost one year ago (2010). Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA), representing the CAS members, has to wait until most of the bargaining unit arrives on campus.
However, given the ways in which the Administration treated them during the last set of negotiations, I would not hold my breath that the contract reflects in any way an adequate recognition of their expertise, education and experience.
The CAS at WLU were forced into a strike back in March-April 2008 because of the low regard held by the Administration towards CAS. For example, one CAS member spoke to me about receiving a doctorate from WLU while at the same time the institution was trying to lower his conditions and pay to McJob wages that younger generations face (i.e. the two-tier work hierarchy that has become increasingly the norm at all kinds of workplaces).
There is a very simple way to determine the value by which university administrations regard the workers, whether academics or cleaners, who make the institutions work: their pay and benefits.
Money in our society is the measure of all things. (Don’t university presidents and provosts claim this when they are trying to explain their six- and seven-digit salaries and benefit packages?!)
Dr Amit Chakma, the President and Vice-Chancellor of UWO, is sending a clear and unequivocal message to all and sundry: someone with three degrees, including a PhD, is worth $10.93 (Canadian) an hour.
Why go into debt (a ‘mini-mortgage’) to be treated – and paid – about the same as a ‘fast-food’ restaurant worker?
How much does UWO, WLU or any university charge for their graduate tuition?
Indeed, how much are they charging for undergraduate tuition? Is it worth it when the university administrations insist on paying as little as possible?
Whether you like it or not, money is the measure of value in our society.
So, regardless of what Dr Chakma or any other university president says, what they offer in concrete, material terms (i.e. how much are they willing to pay or what kinds of benefits are they willing to provide?) indicates the regard within which they hold the PhD or any other academic degree (which, of course, is ironic in so many ways!).