DAN CEARNS The Standard
NORTH DURHAM/KAWARTHAS: College students in Ontario headed back to their classrooms on Tuesday, November 21st, as the Ontario government passed back-to-work legislation on Sunday, Nov. 19th.
The decision ends a college faculty strike, which had recently reached the five week mark.
The Ontario Liberal government made their first attempt to introduce and pass the legislation on the evening of Thursday, November 16th, however the NDP did not give consent. Despite having a majority, the Ontario Liberals still needed to have consent from the two opposition parties to have it pushed to the voting stage.
The legislation was introduced on Friday and debated over the weekend, eventually passing on Sunday.
The decision to introduce the legislation was made after Premier Kathleen Wynne met with OPSEU and the College Employer Council (CEC), shortly after 86 per cent of faculty voted to reject the CEC’s latest offer.
“We’re obviously not pleased with back-to-work legislation,” Nicole Zwiers, president of OPSEU local 354, told The Standard. “I think it is even more egregious coming off of [faculty’s democratic decision to turn down the CEC’s offer].”
Ms. Zwiers added, she was not surprised faculty overwhelmingly turned down the CEC’s offer, stating that OPSEU told the CEC, before a vote on the offer was forced, that faculty would likely reject the offer. She also said any claim, OPSEU would not allow their faculty to vote on an offer, was “simply not true.”
In a press release, issued November 16th, the CEC stated they were “in support of the government introducing back to work legislation as soon as possible.”
In a statement, Ontario deputy premier, and minister of advanced education and skills development, Deb Matthews said, the Ontario government needed to intervene in the strike.
“Students were in the middle of the strike for too long. We needed to put students first, and get them back to their studies. This legislation ensures students can get back to the classroom and refocus on their education,” she said.
Both sides will now go through an arbitration process to resolve outstanding issues.
“The College Employer Council and OPSEU have five days to agree on a mediator-arbitrator, or one will be appointed by the Minister of Labour,” read a press release from the Ontario government.
As well, in another press release, the Ontario government announced they required “colleges to establish dedicated student support funds, with net savings from the strike, that will assist students who have experienced financial hardship as a result of the strike.”
Students who decide to withdraw from college because of the strike will receive a full tuition refund.
Full time students will be eligible to receive up to $500 for “unexpected costs” such as child care fees, or rebooked train or bus tickets.
Ms. Zwiers said, faculty are “pleased they are going to be seeing their students” and are “rolling up their sleeves” and getting to work, but are “disappointed they were legislated back.”
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