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Back-to-work legislation tabled for striking high school teachers

WATCH ABOVE: Province to legislate striking high school teachers back to work, but some students feel the legislation is too little too late. Lama Nicolas explains. 

TORONTO – It will be several days before 70,000 Ontario high school students can return to class after the New Democrats delayed Monday the passage of new legislation that would force striking teachers back to work.

The Liberal government tabled back-to-work legislation after an arm of the Ontario Labour Relations Board advised the province that the school year was in jeopardy for students in three boards where teachers have been on strike for up to five weeks.

WATCH: Premier Kathleen Wynne said she is “disappointed” by the NDP’s lack of support for back-to-work legislation

Failure to win unanimous consent to get the bill passed on Monday means it will be pushed back several days, and Friday is the earliest students in the Sudbury-area Rainbow District, Peel Region and Durham Region could return to class.

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Students could have been back in class Tuesday with all-party support, and Premier Kathleen Wynne said she was “disappointed” the NDP would stall the legislation’s passage.

“I don’t actually understand where the philosophical problem is here, because they know that these kids are at risk and they also know that there is ample opportunity for us to continue to try and get a deal,” she said.

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Education Minister Liz Sandals said the government respects the collective bargaining process, but it’s important to get kids back to class to complete their school year, which she does not expect to be extended beyond June 30.

WATCH: How soon will Ontario high school students be back in school?

The Progressive Conservatives quickly voiced support for getting high school students back to class. In a statement released shortly after Sandals’ announcement, leader Patrick Brown said the party “will be supporting the quick passage of the proposed back-to-work legislation.”

Brown said the party will support the legislation “reluctantly,” pointing to the Liberals’ “failed bargaining process” and “fundamental flaws in Bill 122 that have led to the current situation.”

The OSSTF said it was “extremely disappointed” with the legislation.

“Nothing positive can ever come out of a legislated curtailment of a union’s fundamental right to bargain freely and to withdraw services when necessary,” said OSSTF president Paul Elliott. “This government created the current bargaining process, and we have made every effort to make it work.”

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Elliott called the move “political cover for a government that has no real commitment to the bargaining process.”

Despite talks of a province wide high school teachers’ strike, Sandals said the currently legislation would make the three school boards immune to further action this school year.

“In those three boards, the ERC has already ruled the school year in jeopardy,” she said. “In those boards, there will not be any further strikes for those students in the school year.”

WATCH: NDP leader Andrea Horwath calls back-to-work unanimous consent motion ‘undemocratic’

Durham Region student Cameron Penn said he has a hard time seeing the point in returning to class with so little time left.

“Why has it taken this long? Why do it now, you could have done it back at the beginning,” said Penn. “So it seems like this was all a big waste of time.”

Penn said a lot of students are angry, and feel the government has not been paying attention to them.

“It’s kind of been tough because we haven’t really been given any answers, we’ve really been stuck in the dark. And now, all of a sudden this crazy news that ‘hey, we might be going back to school soon.’ At this point it’s too little, too late.”

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Grade 12 student Heather Benassa said the legislation will give students just three weeks in class; two to cram in what they’ve missed, and one week to prepare for final exams.

“I really hope they don’t expect us to come back with knowledge that we have missed and expect us to do a bunch of tests and assignments,” said Benassa.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation said Saturday that two days of talks with a mediator failed to make any progress, and talks were at an impasse.

With files from The Canadian Press, Lama Nicolas and Tania Kohut