Provincial consultations leave faculty dissatisfied as pension changes loom

Under new legislation, Ontario could eliminate faculty salaries once pension payments begin

Kayll Lake, the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) president, sits in his office at Stirling Hall. Lake is frustrated with what he described as a lack of adequate consultation on major changes to how faculty pensions are regulated in the province. 

In 2009, the mandatory retirement age was eliminated in Canada on the basis of age discrimination. Ten years later, some senior post-secondary faculty might be forced out anyway.

The province’s Bill 100, a budgetary measures bill, has been inching its way toward Royal Assent and could change how post-secondary pensions are regulated.

Once in effect, Bill 100 will give the province regulatory authority to reduce post-secondary faculty salaries to zero once faculty members start receiving their pensions at age 71. 

Kayll Lake, the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) president, told The Journal the province’s efforts to consult faculty associations on the changes were negligible. 

“The word consultation, to me, means we go there or they come here to talk to people about the complexity of the situation,” he said. “That’s not at all what’s going on.”

The proposed changes to post-secondary pensions aren’t described in detail in Ontario’s 2019 budget.

Instead, under a section titled “Ensuring a Dynamic Workforce,” two short paragraphs stipulate that, because the average retirement age of faculty has been increasing, employees remain in their positions longer.

According to the budget, this decreases diversity and limits turnover that would bring in younger faculty with new teaching methods.

In a series of interviews with The Journal about the province’s proposed changes and its consultations with the post-secondary sector, Lake voiced his concerns about the policy and its implementation.

“What’s in the glossy brochure and what’s in reality are often very different things,” he said.

Ontario’s Ministry of Finance did not respond to a request for comment.

Consultations fall flat

The first consultation between the province and faculty associations—a conference call—took place on Feb. 12. 

Lake and the other faculty association representatives were given internet access to a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation was live, and Lake was not given a copy.

During the consultations, he said provincial representatives “refused to answer any questions” and left hardly any time for discussion.

“They ask for our opinion, but it turns out there are 55 people on the line and like 10 minutes for opinions,” he said. “That’s what they’re calling a consultation.”

The topic up for discussion was “renewal within the post-secondary education sector,” but Lake said the real discussion centered around what he called double-dipping—which refers to receiving pension payments and a salary simultaneously.

The Ministry’s presentation pointed to cost implications surrounding “employees [who] tend to be paid the highest salaries and benefits and [who], in some cases, are drawing salary and pension payments at the same time,” according to the Ontario 2019 budget.  

Lake disagrees. “It’s your money because you saved it and you put it away,” he said.

According to Lake—who currently oversees five graduate students and a large research grant—senior faculty earn higher salaries because it takes them years to build a reputation and craft their research.

He also added the education required to work in the university sector causes faculty to begin their careers much later in life than other occupations.

“Suppose the government was to come in and say to me, you’re out,” he said. “What happens to my five graduate students? You can’t say, well, somebody else will take them over, because they’re working on my intellectual property.”

In an article authored by Lake, and circulated in the QUFA newsletter, he speculated senior faculty could be replaced by non-tenured and underpaid staff if the changes are implemented

Lake said a second conference call in early May between faculty associations and the province unfolded in a similar way.

According to Lake, the Ontario Council of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) has hired a law firm to give them an opinion on whether the province can impose the proposed changes to faculty pensions.

 “The Ontario Council will be using this advice to proceed,” he said.

Potential impacts

Sharry Aiken, an associate professor in Queen’s Faculty of Law, told The Journal she expects the government’s proposed amendments will be “open to constitutional challenge.”

She later added in an email to The Journal, if implemented, “it potentially violates both the right to equality and non-discrimination as well as the protections afforded to collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Between 2017 and 2022, Queen’s has pledged to hire 200 new faculty members, nearly doubling its hiring pace from 2011 to 2017. According to Aiken, the law faculty hired several new members last year and another one this year.

“There’s tons of [faculty] renewal going on,” she said. “Could there be more? Yes, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of workers’ rights.”

Like Lake, Aiken said career academics enter the occupation later in life.

“Let’s say [I] teach one course a year, just on a part-time basis to continue the graduate seminar I developed and refined over the years. I will have to do so pro-bono.” Aiken later clarified in an email it would be pro-bono, “or subject to some degree of wage clawback” depending on how the policy is implemented.

“On the other hand, if I want to go get a part-time job working at McDonald’s, nothing is going to preclude me from doing that.”

She added the proposed regulation could present a bigger problem for women.

“Many women join the academy later in their careers, after many years of precarious [employment] or under-employment. In my own case, I worked for 15 years without a pension before my appointment to Queen’s,” Aiken wrote in an email.

Aiken said for women who choose to have children, possibly causing them to earn their graduate degrees at a slower pace, the number of years spent earning money and contributing to pension decreases.

Though higher numbers of women are enrolling in post-secondary programs, the sector’s workforce is still male-dominated. In the 2016-17 year, fewer than 40 per cent of university teaching staff in Canada were women.

“It means that provisions which potentially prevent me from earning any money after the age of 71 are going to have a disproportionately negative impact on me,” Aiken said.

What comes next

Lake said because consultations provided little information, he doesn’t know what the government’s new regulatory system could look like at Queen’s.

“We would ask [the province], for example, how they would implement or start such a procedure,” he said. “The answer always was, we’ll get back to you on that.”

Queen’s was unable to provide further details when contacted by The Journal.

“The provincial government has not released any details concerning the compensation issues raised, thus we are unable to offer comment at this time,” Michael Fraser, vice-principal (University Relations) wrote in a statement to The Journal.

“We have no idea what comes next,” Lake said.


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