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Anna Kincaid, 17, managed to complete and pass her driver's test in Ottawa on Friday, just before the examiners went on strike. ((Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC))

Unionized driver examiners across Ontario are on strike, putting thousands of licence applications in limbo.

United Steelworkers Local 9511, which represents about 550 workers at 56 DriveTest locations, said contract talks with employer Serco DES Inc. broke down late Friday afternoon.

"We're really, really disappointed," Steelworkers director Wayne Fraser said after 3 1/2 straight days of negotiations.

The unionized employees had originally planned to walk off the job if a tentative deal had not been reached by 2 a.m. Friday. But the union decided instead to ask workers to report for work as usual Friday morning so negotiations could continue for a few more hours to resolve issues concerning wages, overtime and sick days — while remaining on "strike notice."

Fraser said union members at up to eight DriveTest centres in the Greater Toronto Area set up picket lines early, citing their frustration with the labour negotiations. He said Friday evening that the rest of the union members now have walked out.

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The employees were originally scheduled to walk off the job if no contract had been reached by 2 a.m. Friday. ((CBC))

DriveTest said all driver examination centres are now closed until further notice.

The Ontario government will take steps to extend the validity of licences that require a retest for renewal. This includes licences for novice drivers, commercial drivers and drivers aged 80 years and older. DriveTest said those renewals will be done automatically.

Anna Kincaid, 17, learned about the labour situation when she arrived at Ottawa's Walkley Road driver exam location Friday morning.

"And then I started to panic," she said, adding that she had already missed her test once before when she was late for her appointment.

Luckily, her driving test went ahead and she passed.

Tom Wainwright, an instructor with Young Drivers of Canada, said tests typically need to be booked four to six weeks in advance and DriveTest conducts 3,000 examinations a week in Ontario, meaning the strike could affect a lot of people.

"That's going to be a heck of an inconvenience," Wainwright said.

Serco DES won a $114-million contract with the Ontario government in 2003 to provide driver examination services for 10 years.

According to the union, one of the main issues is job security, as many employees work long hours in the summer and then are laid off in the winter.

With a file from The Canadian Press