TORONTO – Ontario legislated college faculty back to work on Sunday, ending a five-week strike and paving the way for students to return to class on Tuesday.
Colleges are extending their semesters so students don’t lose their terms, but trying to condense five missed weeks into roughly two extra ones will be very stressful, student advocates say.
“It’s going to be a very busy rest of the semester for students,” said Joel Willett, president of the College Student Alliance. “They have indicated to us that they are very frustrated.”
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The group is pushing for students who feel they won’t be able to complete their semesters to be able to withdraw and receive refunds, Willett said.
The provincial government has ordered the colleges to create a fund – using savings from the strike, for example by not paying faculty wages – to help students who may be experiencing financial hardship because of the labour dispute. Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews has estimated that amount would be about $5 million.
“This terrible chapter is over,” she said.
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Around 500,000 students have been out of class since the strike by 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians began Oct. 15. The colleges have said they would need two days to restart classes, meaning students will be back on Tuesday.
The colleges welcomed the back-to-work legislation, saying all efforts at the bargaining table had been exhausted.
“The strike has been incredibly disruptive to students and we needed to end it,” Sonia Del Missier, the head of the colleges’ bargaining team, said in a statement.
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The Ontario Public Service Employees Union says it is looking at the possibility of a constitutional challenge to the legislation.
The Liberal government first attempted to introduce its back-to-work bill Thursday evening, after restarted talks between the colleges and the faculty’s union reached an impasse.
But unanimous consent of all parties was needed, and the NDP refused, leading the government to introduce the legislation Friday.
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It was debated through special weekend sittings in which the NDP argued it takes away workers’ rights and only comes after the Liberals failed to bring the two sides together during the past five weeks.