5-week Ontario college strike comes to an end

Ontario college students return to class

The back-to-work legislation was passed by 39-18 votes in the Ontario Provincial Assembly late on Sunday to make the teachers end the longest college strike in Ontario's history.

About 500,000 students have been out of the classroom since October 15 after contract talks broke off between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents striking staff, and the College Employer Council, which represents Ontario's 24 colleges.

Students will have two weeks from the resumption of classes on Tuesday to decide whether or not they want to continue with the semester, Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews said Monday.

The bill requires the current strike at Ontario's colleges to be terminated, and prevents any additional strikes or lock-outs arising from the dispute until a new collective agreement is signed.

The government has put more flesh on the bones of the promise it made last week to compensate students, announcing on Monday that students will be eligible for up to $500 to compensate for unexpected costs and that those who decide simply to end their college try will get a full tuition refund.

"I think students successfully argued that students need some kind of compensation for this", she said.

"That is our money that's going in, and that's our time being wasted", Flay said. "Half of Ontario's college students are parents, they are mature students".

Earlier this month, the Liberal government ordered colleges to setup a dedicated student support fund, using money saved as a result of the strike, to help students struggling financially due to the labour dispute.

"Students will have a two-week window to return to classes, determine how comfortable they are with a condensed semester, and then have the option to withdraw and receive a full tuition refund", the group's press release read.

Don Sinclair, CEO of the College Employer Council, which bargained on behalf of the province's colleges, said every school will have a different approach on how it structures the remainder of the semester.

The fall term has been extended at each of the colleges into the new year.

JP Hornick, chair of OPSEU's faculty bargaining team, says the timeline leaves little chance for quality education.

To give faculty and students more time, classes are scheduled for a week in December and a week in January that originally were to be part of the Christmas break.

"I'm focused on our faculty getting back and our students getting back in class".

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