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Bill 100 kills collective bargaining, threatens higher education and academic freedom

Coalition of labour, students and faculty calls for rally this Monday

by Robert Devet

Bill 100, the Liberals' latest, gives senior administration carte blanche to continue screwing up, say unions, students and faculty staff.  Even workers' right to strike will be eliminated. Photo Robert Devet
Bill 100, the Liberals' latest, gives senior administration carte blanche to continue screwing up, say unions, students and faculty staff. Even workers' right to strike will be eliminated. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK, HALIFAX - Bill 100, the Universities Accountability and Sustainability Act, before the Nova Scotia legislature this week, manages to offend students, faculty and workers all in one fell swoop.

That's what tends to happen when legislation takes away workers' right to strike, threatens academic freedom, and refashions research into “business opportunities.”

The bill allows universities that face financial difficulties to submit a financial revitalization plan to the provincial government.

That's when the trouble starts.

While that revitalization plan is in effect no strikes or lockouts will be allowed, the proposed legislation states. Existing collective agreements, to the extent that they contravene the revitalization plan, become null and void.

Danny Cavanagh, regional vice-president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees CUPE), has seen it all before.

“This bill is yet another piece or undemocratic anti-union legislation from this Liberal government,” Cavanagh tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

“Along with Bill 30 (home care workers) and Bill 37 (health care workers) this bill too will restrict people's bargaining rights. In fact it takes them absolutely away,” says Cavanagh.

“It goes even deeper because it restricts the ability to grieve and gives the Minister (of Labour and Advanced Education) all kinds of sweeping powers.”

Between 2000 and 2500 CUPE members in six union locals are affected, ranging from cafeteria workers and maintenance workers to part time instructors.

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) also represent non-faculty university workers in Nova Scotia.

“Those people really don't make a lot of money, most don't have a pension and most don't get many benefits,” Cavanagh says.

“If the universities are financially strapped then why are they not looking at the top, at people who make decent money, like university presidents,” Cavanagh wonders.

Matthew Furlong, communications officer for the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT), agrees with Cavanagh's analysis.

His group, along with individual faculty associations and students, has long argued that too much of taxpayers' money is shifted away from core academic budgets to capital investments and an ever increasing senior administration.

“All the legislation offers is a very generic accountability to the taxpayer, as long as you're not running a deficit it's all good, that kind of thing, which is pretty empty,” says Furlong.

Bill 100, by limiting the ability to bargain or uphold existing collective agreements, also takes away a mechanism for faculty to counteract what Furlong believes is an orchestrated effort to change the nature of post-secondary education into a mere facilitator of economic and business interests.

“It is interesting that the word education almost never appears when the government speaks to the public or releases documents to the public,” Furlong notes.

Instead, the legislation talks about the benefits of “turning research into business opportunities”, and the university's role of “fostering a skilled, entrepreneurial and innovative workforce.”

Any revitalization plan must contain “a plan for the effective exchange of knowledge and innovation with the private sector,” the proposed legislation ordains.

“Bill 100 is a piece of legislation intended to transform universities into a business and become a concierge service for large business interests,” Furlong argues.

Faculty Associations, through the collective bargaining process, have at times been effective in stemming this tide and defend academic freedom and the quality of education.

Now that ability will be taken away.

For instance, earlier this year the Acadia University faculty bargained for and won guarantees around full-time faculty increments.

And just this Friday Cape Breton University's president David Wheeler announced that he plans to cut staff by five to 10 percent and will seek a wage freeze.

Acadia's gains could be wiped out and David Wheeler's wishes could be granted just like that once Bill 100 becomes law, says Furlong.

Students are equally disenfranchised by Bill 100, says Michaela Sam, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, Nova Scotia.

“Bill 100 transfers decision processes away from an internal governance structure, where students are at the table, to an external process, where students don't have a voice,” Sam tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

“(Senior administrators) have shown that they are incapable of properly managing their finances,” says Sam. “This legislation simply allows these same administrators to now run their institutions into the ground.”

“Bill 100 is a threat to collective bargaining and an effort to undermine the students participation in governance. And that's why it is also a threat to academic integrity and the quality of education,” says Sam.

A coalition of ANSUT, CFS-NS, NSGEU, SEIU and CUPE organizes a rally in opposition of Bill 100 at Province House on Monday April 27th at 4 PM.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter  @DevetRobert



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