New bill gives academic staff the right to strike

New bill gives academic staff the right to strike

Post-secondary faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows will be given the right to strike under a new bill introduced Thursday by the Alberta government.

If the bill is passed, the associations representing professors, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows would have to negotiate an essential services agreement before heading to the picket line.

Professors and graduate students currently don't have the right to strike. Instead, contract disputes are settled through compulsory binding arbitration. Post-doctoral fellows aren't recognized under current legislation.

A Supreme Court decision in January 2015 which annulled a Saskatchewan law prohibiting public service workers from striking meant the Alberta government needed to update its laws.

In spring 2016, the Alberta legislature passed the Essential Service Act which gave workers the right to strike as long as unions and their employers agreed on a contingency plan.

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt says the government has provisions to protect students in the event in a strike. 

"We do recognize that students' educations could be put at risk and so if there is the possibility of convening an emergency tribunal in the case of a public emergency written into the legislation," he said.

Post-doctoral recognition 

If passed, the bill would make Alberta the first jurisdiction in Canada to extend labour rights to post-doctoral fellows. 

These are people who have a PhD or medical degree who work as researchers at universities in hopes of publishing enough to earn a full-time faculty position. 

Neuroscientist Joe Sparling is the past president of the Post Doctoral Association at the University of Calgary and the chairman of the Canadian Association of Post Doctoral Scholars. 

He said the legislation is "huge" news for post-doctoral academics who lack access to employment insurance and pensions. 

"I think post-docs have been asking for recognition as employees in the province here alone for at least 20 years," Sparling said. 

"Most of us are in our mid-thirties, many of us have children. This is a whole group of well-educated people who hold doctorates and M.D.s who basically lack the protections required this day and age in the job market." 

The Alberta government held consultations on the changes last fall. Schmidt says the government adopted most of the recommendations that resulted from that process.