Minister vows re-think of college bargaining process

As the Ontario government moves to end a five-week strike by legislating college instructors back to work, the Minister of Advanced Education says the province will also take a closer look at a collective bargaining process that 'failed everybody.'

'It's failed students. It's failed everybody'

Ontario Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews says after the strike by college instructors ends, the province will take a closer look at a bargaining process that 'failed everybody.' (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

As the Ontario government moves to legislate striking college instructors back to work, the minister of advanced education is promising to look at potential flaws in the bargaining process that led to the work stoppage.

"This process has failed. It's failed students, it's failed everybody," said Deb Matthews, speaking on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "We need to take a look at what that process is. That is part of the work."

This process has failed. It's failed students, it's failed everybody.- Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews

Late Thursday the Ontario Liberals tried to introduce back-to-work legislation, but the NDP blocked the attempt by refusing unanimous consent to introduce legislation outside the normally scheduled time period.The Liberals are expected to try again Friday afternoon during an extraordinary session of the legislature. 

"We believe that if students can be back on Monday we will not lose the semester," Matthews said. "So the timing is really critical that we do get it passed today so that classes can resume on Monday."

After students are back in class, Matthews said, the province can take a closer look at the bargaining process that led to the five-week strike, as well as systemic issues such as the proportion of full-time and part-time instructors at colleges — a major concern for the instructors' union.

While colleges benefit from instructors who split their time between teaching and working in their field, and some instructors prefer to work that way, "there are other part-timers who very much want to be full-time," Matthews said. "That balance is something we need to explore."

Province could have ended strike sooner: OPSEU

Pat Kennedy, president of the union local that represents faculty at Ottawa's Algonquin College, suggested the government took too long to intervene.

"They could have put an end to this a long time ago," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said arbitration can produce a good outcome: for example, arbitration to end a strike in the 1980s led to the adoption of a workload formula that has benefited workers. But the province will need to provide additional funding for the system, he said.

Matthews defended the province's decision to wait five weeks to introduce back-to-work legislation.

"There are laws and Supreme Court decisions that really restrict the ability of the government to act until there is no hope left," Matthews said. 

Algonquin College students could return Tuesday

Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen said she's "relieved" student will return to class, and said that could happen as soon as Tuesday if back-to-work legislation is passed Friday or over the weekend.

If that happens, faculty would return Monday to meet with administration and prepare for the return of students, Jensen said on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

"We want our faculty to be involved in our return to work and return to school plan," Jensen said.

Questions also remain about how colleges will use savings from the strike. The province has said those savings must go to a fund to benefit students.

"We're consulting on exactly what that will look like," Matthews said, adding that the discussions include student groups as well as the colleges. "It's important to me that it be simple, that the money get back to students as quickly as possible [and] it has to be fair."