Is contract teaching hazardous?

Volume 27, Issue 4
April 2017

des mccarville, Co-Chair, Joint Health & Safety Committee


A recent article in the Toronto Star (Monday, March 20, 2017) cited a poll conducted by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) that highlighted stress, unhappiness and unhealthy home life as major concerns for those engaged in precarious labour. The survey of over 4,000 by the OFL also noted that anxiety is the single most important factor of precarious jobs.

The article also cited research by the United Way, McMaster University and University of Michigan that found that those with precarious employment were more likely to suffer from mental health problems than full time workers.

Do Humber’s contract faculty (partial-load, part-time, and sessional) face these same challenges? Anecdotal evidence from Local officers and stewards seems to confirm that the precarious nature of contract teaching is not good for anyone’s health.

I began teaching HVAC at Humber in the School of Applied Technology in 2000. For five years, I cycled between partial-load, part-time and sessional positions, finally obtaining a full-time position in 2005. At that time, my salary doubled and my workload was cut in half. My family noted a significant improvement in both my mental and physical health.

When I started in 2000, there were six full-time faculty and one contract faculty (me) in my department. Fifteen years later, enrollment in the program has tripled. Our program is usually one of the first to wait-list in the school. How has this changed the faculty ratio? We now have five full-time faculty and 11 contract faculty.

My experience mirrors the rest of the school. When I began, the school-wide ratio of full-time to contract faculty was 70 to 30 per cent. Over ten years, that ratio has been reversed. This cannot be a coincidence. At some time in the last decade, management at the college opted to become a precarious employer. When they made this decision, did they take the health and well-being of their employees into account? We have yet to hear their rationale.

Does the college have any responsibility in providing a safe and healthy working environment for its employees? I think we all would answer in the affirmative. So why is the college persisting in maintaining a working environment that seems to be creating very unhealthy outcomes for many of those employees?

The Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee works to eliminate workplace injury and illness. In structuring a working environment dependent upon precarious labour, Humber has created an environment that seems to be in contradiction with these goals.

There are many fronts to combat the issue of precarious contract labour, but as members of the Local we must remember this is a contract bargaining year. For the first time, contract faculty will have a voice on the union bargaining committee. We need the support of both full-time and contract faculty to get the fairest deal we can for all employees.