News / Toronto

'It's incredibly stressful': Job security top of mind for Toronto college instructor on strike

Liz Brockest, one of thousands of faculty members across Ontario colleges on strike this week, has to re-apply for the same job every semester.

Liz Brockest, 34, has been a part-time teacher at George Brown for the last seven years.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Liz Brockest, 34, has been a part-time teacher at George Brown for the last seven years.

Seven years of part-time employment have forced Liz Brockest to put life goals on hold.

"I'm delaying any plans to have kids because I don't even have job security to know that I can provide for my family," said the 34-year-old teacher in the Transitions to Post-Secondary Education Program at George Brown College in Toronto.

From the picket lines on the downtown campus Tuesday, she talked about the perils of juggling multiple gigs just to pay rent and other bills. Brockest, one of thousands of faculty members across Ontario colleges on strike this week, has to re-apply for the same job every semester.

"It's incredibly stressful," she said, never sure about her next contract and what courses she'll be allowed to teach. "I teach courses about equity, fairness, human rights, and I'm in an environment where my employer is not providing the same things to me."

Part-time and temporary employment may be here to stay, said labour researcher Wayne Lewchuk, adding that strikes will probably continue, including at universities.

Precarious work has been a trend for the past 20 years, a result of a "fairly conscious" campaign led by temporary employment agencies who see it as a better way of running businesses, Lewchuk said.

"The dominant management theory now is that it makes sense to hire people on a temporary basis, to worry less about their development as more capable and productive employees, and simply focus on the short run," he explained.

Lewchuk was the lead author of a 2015 report on precarious employment, which found that about 52 per cent of workers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are in temporary, part-time or contract positions.

He said the education sector is particularly affected by this trend, mainly because budgets are being squeezed and part-time teaching is seen as a cost-effective measure.

College staff are asking for at least a 50-50 ratio between full-time and part-time employment, but colleges say it would be too costly. Negotiations are currently on hold.

The strike is a sign that the situation is reaching a breaking point, said Lewchuk.

"I think in the long run, we all suffer from this," he said.

"It's not clear that students are getting the best deal by having instructors who are scrambling to put a life together teaching at multiple institutions and never getting enough money."

Correction: This story was corrected from an earlier version that mistakenly said part-time faculty were on strike.

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