North American educators launch Fair Employment Week - McGill University targeted in call for decent employment practices

    MONTREAL, Oct. 30 /CNW Telbec/ - This week, educators across the
continent are calling attention to the employment conditions of contingent
academic staff at our colleges and universities. These professionals form the
often-unacknowledged labour force that makes the university work, ranging from
sessional and part-time instructors to teaching assistants and other graduate
    "Fair Employment Week" runs October 27-31 this year. For the Fédération
nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ-CSN), it's an
opportunity to raise awareness about the precarious working conditions of
graduate employees at McGill University.
    A recent Quebec labour relations commission ruling vividly demonstrates
the need to update Quebec labour law to reflect the modern reality of atypical
and precarious work situations, says FNEEQ President Ronald Cameron. In a
September 24 decision, Commissioner André Michaud rejected the complaints
filed by 138 McGill teaching assistants against the university after it
dismissed them from unrelated on-campus employment during a 10-week strike by
the unionized TAs last spring.
    "This ruling means that thousands of on-campus workers do not now enjoy
the same job protections guaranteed to every other worker who is governed by
Quebec labour law," said Mr. Cameron. "The decision goes against the spirit of
Quebec's Labour Code, which is intended to protect the right of workers to
engage in legal strike action. For those who have no choice but to work
multiple jobs at universities in Quebec, this right is now seriously
    Lawyers acting for the Association of Graduate Students Employed at
McGill (AGSEM) had argued that the dismissals were illegal under articles 15
and 16 of the Quebec Labour Code, which prohibit employers from firing workers
for union activity, such as a strike.
    However, Commissioner Michaud accepted McGill's claim that certain other
articles of the Code - originally intended to prevent picket-line violence
when they were drafted in the 1970s - led the university to a "reasonable"
belief that it had no choice but to fire AGSEM members from their secondary
campus jobs. These included exam invigilators, sessional lecturers, research
assistants as well as members who worked in the library, in information
technology and as campus guides.
    AGSEM President Richard Hink noted, however, that the university chose
not to dismiss sessional lecturers during the winter semester after the strike
was declared April 8, three weeks before the semester concluded.
    "McGill may regret this move," observed Mr. Hink. "Should teaching
assistants strike in the future, the impact on the university will be far more
serious given the number of other jobs our members do on this campus."

    Ultimately, the FNEEQ believes the Quebec government must act to protect
the right to freedom of association for the growing number of people in
atypical work environments. "It's time to bring the Code into the 21st
century," said Mr. Cameron. "These highly skilled knowledge workers at McGill
and other universities should not suffer discrimination because our laws are
out of date. The law should be the same for everyone."

For further information:

For further information: Lyle Stewart, CSN Communications Service, (514)

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