Union members representing Ontario’s 24 colleges held a large rally in front of the advanced education ministry’s office in downtown Toronto to urge the province to step in and help end a labour dispute that has cancelled classes for more than a week.
There have been no talks between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the College Employer Council since Oct. 15 when more than 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians walked off the job.
“We know she is in there meeting with student leaders all day today,” said JP Hornick, chair of the union bargaining team.
“We want to help amplify their message and their voices that we all want to be back in the classrooms together. We can’t do it with a council that is this recalcitrate and unwilling to negotiate on issues that are no cost.”
About 500,000 full-time and part-time students have been impacted by the strike.
OPSEU is pressing colleges for fewer part-time and contract positions. However, when contract work is required they’re asking for equal pay to their full-time counterparts and better work spaces.
The colleges have said that would add more than $250 million in costs each year.
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Student union leaders organized a rally last week calling on the Ontario government to get college administrators and striking faculty to return to the bargaining table. So far, no talks have been planned.
In a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne and a number of members of Ontario’s legislature, the presidents of student associations at eight colleges asked the government to get both OPSEU and the College Employer Council to resume talks.
The student leaders have requested a meeting with Wynne, Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews, faculty union and college representatives on Oct. 26.
“We need help from Deb Matthews and others with a stake in the system, to put pressure on council, to get them back on the table and to actually start negotiating,” Hornick said.
The minister told reporters at Queen’s Park on Wednesday that colleges are in the process of developing plans for students to received credits for classes taken once the labour dispute ends.
“My big plea to the employers and the union, is to understand that solutions are at the table,” Matthews said.
“The students are the unfortunate victims of this impasse.”
Meanwhile, two Ontario students who started a petition to have school administrators refund their tuition met with Matthews at the Ontario legislature to discuss their concerns.
“We told her that we have over 100,000 signatures and that we have a constituency behind us that is frustrated that this college strike has already gone on way too long,” Humber College student Greg Kung said.
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An average tuition in Ontario for two 13-week semesters is $5,000 or nearly $40 a day.
The petition is demanding full-time students be reimbursed $30 a day and part-time students $20 a day.
“We’re not satisfied until a resolution is reached,” George Brown student Amir Allana said. “At the same time, we’ve always said that we respect the tough situation that all parties are in. I think we want to see them back at the table.”
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-With a file from AM980 and The Canadian Press