News / Toronto

No relief for students as Ontario college strike drags on

The Liberals tried to force faculty back to work Thursday, but the after-hours move was blocked by the NDP.

Nicola Lau, the president of the Seneca Student Federation, with international student Eduard Deych. Students at the college are frustrated that the strike is still ongoing, Lau said, and worried about their semesters.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Nicola Lau, the president of the Seneca Student Federation, with international student Eduard Deych. Students at the college are frustrated that the strike is still ongoing, Lau said, and worried about their semesters.

Ontario's New Democrats blocked an attempt by the Liberal government on Thursday to force college faculty back to work and end the nearly five-week strike.

The Liberals needed unanimous support to table back-to-work legislation after the normally scheduled time period for introducing legislation passed by Thursday evening.

The legislature will now reconvene Friday, when it does not normally sit, and the Liberals will try to introduce the legislation in the afternoon. If it is blocked again, they say they intend to sit through the weekend.

Premier Kathleen Wynne had asked the colleges and the union representing striking faculty to return to the bargaining table Thursday after workers voted to reject a contract offer, but within several hours the two sides reached an impasse.

The strike involves 12,000 college professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians. Half a million students have been kept out of class since Oct. 15.

"Students have been in the middle of this strike for too long and it's not fair," Wynne wrote in a statement after faculty rejected the offer.

Seneca Student Federation president Nicola Lau said she's not surprised Thursday's offer was rejected but she's heard from many students who are frustrated and "really sad."

"A lot of students are saying that they want their money back," she said. "Students are angry and students are ready for our next protest."

Many are concerned about losing their semester and worried that if classes eat into the Christmas break they will have to reschedule expensive flights back home, she added.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents the workers, said the offer contained "serious concessions" that were not agreed to, which would erode faculty rights and contribute to an unsustainable staffing model.

"This is exactly what we expected," union bargaining team head JP Hornick said. "This was an unnecessary vote. It could have been taken back in September ... and instead they chose to drag (the strike) on for an extra two weeks."

Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews said the government is looking at a "range of options" to get students back into the classroom. She also had sharp words for both the colleges and the union and how they've allowed the strike to drag on.

"I would say that both parties share the failure, and it is a failure," she said. "Both parties need to recognize that their approach to this date has not resulted in any kind of success. They have to focus on students."

Matthews argued that the semester can be salvaged.

The provincial government has ordered the colleges to create a fund — using savings from the strike — to help students who experience financial hardship because of the labour dispute.

With files from The Canadian Press

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