Categorized | Education

Students worry as Ontario college strike hits third week

Posted on 03 November 2017 by admin

Concerns about losing semester surface as no end in sight and both sides remain far apart.

College students are now worried about the possibility of losing their semester as a strike by their teachers enters its third week.

With the job action dragging on, they are also worried that in order to save the school year, it could instead be extended — adding to their expenses and interfering with job plans.

A protest and rally are planned for Wednesday at Queen’s Park.

“Though a college semester has never been lost because of a faculty strike, students are increasingly concerned about this becoming reality,” said Joel Willett, president of the College Student Alliance, in a written statement. “Lost class time, especially a lost semester, can result in delayed graduation, additional financial requirements, and student visa confusion. This is not what students signed up for.”

Willett said students are suffering, and “we urge negotiating parties to remember students are at college to learn and not to be used as pawns.”

The strike, which began Oct. 16, saw 12,000 full-time and partial-load instructors — those who teach anywhere from seven to 12 hours a week — hit the picket lines at the province’s 24 public colleges, impacting more than 300,000 students. The Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU), which represents instructors, is fighting for at least 50 per cent of teachers to be full-time, as well as improvements to wages.

The College Employer Council has said the union’s demands will cost $250 million, and lead to the loss of thousands of contract positions. It argues half of all teaching hours are covered by full-time professors, and that its final offer to the union gives preference to full-time hiring.

(Depending on how it’s calculated, full-time faculty represent about one-third of all teachers strictly by head count, and by teaching hours they represent about 50 per cent.)

Ontario college students lent support to striking faculty members Wednesday at a rally outside the province’s advanced education ministry in Toronto. One student says the length of the strike, which began Oct. 15, is “nerve-wracking.” (The Canadian Press)

Council CEO Don Sinclair has said the colleges have to reach a deal that is fiscally responsible and that gives flexibility in hiring given declining enrolment.

Both sides remain far apart, and have said they will return to the table when the mediator believes there is some hope of a deal.

“There are no talks scheduled and we are equally as frustrated as the students,” said J.P. Hornick, who is head of OPSEU’s college bargaining team. She said the union wants to bargain, “but we can’t really negotiate if the other side is saying there is one path to a settlement. We are hopeful (advanced education) Minister Matthews uses to her position . . . to push them back to the table and move them from their positions.”

The union has a rally and march planned for Thursday, and Hornick said morale remains “very high on the picket lines. Faculty are worried and want to be back in our classrooms, but people are willing to stand strong on this for as long as it takes.”

The government, which is not a party to the negotiations, has been urging both sides to return to the table.

Sinclair said the colleges are equally frustrated “because we believe this is an unnecessary strike that’s disrupted hundreds of thousands of students. Our faculty should be in the classroom teaching their students. OPSEU has created this mess; they know where the settlement zone is” but aren’t willing to compromise.

Deb Matthews, minister of advanced education and skills development, has said she is very troubled by the lack of talks, but that it’s too early to talk about when the government might intervene.

“We respect the collective bargaining process which is a process between the faculty union and the College Employer Council. We ‎know that the solution to this strike is at the bargaining table; however, the bargaining parties have not met since the strike began,” Matthews said.

“Both the premier and myself are urging both parties to return to the table and find a solution that allows students to return to the classroom where they belong.”

Matthews met with student groups last week and she said “they have real and understandable concerns about the impact this strike may have on their education … we are committed to doing everything we can to connect students to the resources they need to stay informed. I encourage students to continue to make their voices heard and urge both parties back to the table to get an agreement that quickly that puts students back in the classroom‎.”

She said the federal government has given assurances that students here on a visa will not be adversely impacted by the strike.

And, Matthews added, “every college is working to have a contingency plan so that when they do come back, no students will lose their semester.”

At the legislature, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown has said the premier needs to put more pressure to get the two sides back to bargaining.

“We can’t afford to have students lose their academic year,” he told reporters.

NDP education critic Peggy Sattler said students are unfairly caught in the middle.

“They worry whether they will be able to complete their program requirements. Many are paying both tuition and rent, and are understandably anxious about the financial burden they are carrying when their semester might be lost.”

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