In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and students at Ontario’s post-secondary institutions need more than ‘window dressing’ currently on offer from the Provincial Government, the Chair of CUPE’s Ontario University Workers’ Coordinating Committee (OUWCC) warned today.

“Ontario’s Universities are by no means immune from the profound disruption caused by COVID-19,” said David Simao, Chairperson of the Ontario University Workers’ Coordinating Committee (OUWCC), which represents more than 30,000 CUPE members working in Ontario’s university sector.

“In this crisis, every member of the university community needs to know their government has their backs. Students need meaningful assurances their educations will continue in a meaningful way, with disruptions kept to a minimum. Every university worker needs to know they have meaningful supports to get through this crisis. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen so far specific to post-secondary education has been little more than window dressing,” he added.

Earlier this week, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Ross Romano announced a six-month moratorium on student loan interest payments and the establishment of a one-time, $25 million cash infusion for Ontario’s 55 colleges, universities and Indigenous institutions to deal with ‘immediate needs’ (such as mental health supports and deep cleaning of facilities) created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In normal times, these announcements would be considered welcome, small steps towards a modest goal. In these times, they are woefully inadequate,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario.

“Governments at all levels – but especially the Provincial Government – should send a clear message of support to university workers and students that they will do everything possible to ensure that they will be supported during this crisis. Assurances from the Province – that workers can expect continuity in their employment and wages – is the least they should expect. These steps reflect the needs of both the broader community and the needs of students to know that they will have the supports they need to be successful. Minister Romano’s announcement fails to accomplish this. Much more needs to be done,” he added.

Simao urged the Province to take a number of steps to address the impacts of COVID-19 on post-secondary education, including the following:

  • Offering support grants to students unable to access Employment Insurance or the new Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB);
  • Bridge funding and other supports for researchers who are unable to perform laboratory work during the shutdown period;
  • Ensuring comprehensive medical coverage via OHIP to international students; and
  • Further direct support to universities to ensure pay continuity for affected workers and to make up for revenues lost due to enrolment drops.

“These tangible steps will at least begin to address some of the impacts we are seeing in universities. If government takes these steps now, it will help to ensure the long-term viability of post-secondary education once this crisis has passed,” said Simao.