Ontario government to table back-to-work legislation to end college strike

Ontario college students will head back to class after the Ontario government promised back-to-work legislation to end the bitter strike by faculty.

However, it’s unclear when classes will resume after the NDP opposition blocked the government’s attempt to pass the legislation Thursday night.

The legislature is expected to debate the bill on the weekend.

But Premier Kathleen Wynne’s promise of back-to-work legislation will put an abrupt end to the longest strike in the 50-year history of Ontario colleges.

The legislation will “return Ontario college students to the classroom where they belong,” said Wynne, who had tried unsuccessfully to pressure the colleges and union to reach a deal.

The province is under pressure from hundred of thousands of frustrated and angry students. The strike at 24 colleges is nearing the end of its fifth week, and many students fear their semester is in jeopardy.

“Students have been in the middle of this strike for too long and it’s not fair,” Wynne said in a statement.

Wynne’s statement mentioned that her goal was to have students back in class Monday, but that was before the NDP refused to allow quick passage of the bill.

And even after the legislation is passed, a return to classes might not be immediate. Some colleges, including Algonquin, had previously announced they would need two working days to prepare for a return to classes after the work stoppage ends.

The 24 colleges’ 12,800 professors, partial-load instructors, counsellors and librarians walked off the job on Oct. 16. The dispute was rancorous, with union and management sniping at each other in increasingly heated statements.

Students caught in the middle watched as their semester slipped away. Thousands signed an online petition demanding a tuition refund, and a class-action lawsuit has also been proposed.

The legislation hammer came down after a long day that began with an announcement that college faculty had voted overwhelmingly to reject a contract offer from management.

At Algonquin College, professors trudging though the rain on picket lines stopped briefly to cheer and hug each other when news arrived that union members had voted 86 per cent in favour of rejecting the offer.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union had urged members to vote no.

The turnout was sky high — 95 per cent of members voted.

Picketers said they felt strongly about the issues in the dispute, such as a request for more job security for contract workers who must re-apply for their jobs each semester, and an increase in the number of full-time professors.

Larry Hoedl said he has been teaching for 11 years in the college’s applied museum studies program. As a “partial-load instructor,” he teaches for 11 hours a week in the classroom. But he estimates he spends three times that amount of time meeting and advising students and marking assignments.

“Economically, I make about $20,000 a year. I’m not sure where the poverty line would be, but I can see it from where I stand.”

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