Nearly 300,000 post-secondary students across 24 Ontario colleges, including Niagara College, are taking an extended reading week this year.
The Ontario colleges strike took affect on Oct. 15, putting over 130,000 professors on the picket line over labour disputes. Students will be withheld from classes for what could be more than a month as negotiations continue through the form of a provincially-appointed mediator.
In terms of a bargaining update, there are currently no talks between the two parties scheduled. The mediator will decide when to call the two sides back to the table.
Locally, the 9,000 full-time and 15,000 part-time students at Niagara College will have to play the waiting game in hopes classes will resume as promptly as possible.
Michael Whales, manager of communications at Niagara College, said that while classes and apprenticeship programs will be suspended during the strike, non-academic activities, such as sports and events, will still be held.
“We know this is a time of uncertainty for our students,” Whales said in an e-mail.
“Communication is key during this time and we’ve reached out directly to students and we’ll continue to update them regularly via our website and social media.”
Whales noted that while the strike is an uncertain time for students, no college student in Ontario has ever lost their graduation day due to labour disputes such as these.
The strike started Monday when the OPSEU refused an offer from the College Employer Council (CEC), demanding a $250-million annual increase on salary spending.
Members of the CEC say the increase would jeopardize the current number of college programs as some would be unsustainable under the current format.
The final offer submitted by the union as rejected by the college administration included a 7.75 per cent wage increase over four years up to $115,094, autonomous lesson plans and more professor feedback to administrators.
Sonia Del Missier, long-time Cambrian College vice-president of academics, oversees the provincial bargaining team and was quoted in a statement released on behalf of the CEC saying the strike is “completely unnecessary and unfair to hundreds of thousands of students.”
She says the CEC should have had a deal based on their final offer.
“It is comparable to, or better than, recent public-sector settlements with teachers, college support staff, hospital professionals and Ontario public servants – most of which were negotiated by OPSEU.”
“The fastest way to resolve the strike is for the union to accept the colleges’ final offer, or, at the very least, put the colleges’ final offer forward to its members for a vote.”
The OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union) helps over 130,000 professionals in Ontario and helps set the guidelines for employees to employers and protects workers rights.
Lost in the struggle for balance are the young minds who eagerly await to resume their classes.
Student outcries in the wake of the strike call for refunds on missed classes and for better treatment of their professors, giving a heavy incentive for the two parties to collaborate on a fair deal in a timely manner.
– with files from Harley Davidson