Sudbury union rep says legislation 'the best we can hope for' to settle college labour dispute

As thousands of college faculty and students wait for the legislation to end the province’s college strike, the provincial labour minister says it was the only option to resolve the labour dispute.
Faculty at Cambrian College in Sudbury stand at picket line. (Erik White/CBC)

As thousands of college faculty and students wait for the legislation to end the province's college strike, the provincial labour minister says it was the only option to resolve the labour dispute.

About 12,000 college faculty have been on the picket lines since Oct. 16. About 500,000 students across the province are affected.

After meeting with both the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the College of Employer Council (CEC) on Thursday after union members voted down a contract offer, Premier Kathleen Wynne says her government will table legislation to end the strike.

Kevin Flynn, the province's labour minister, says 98 per cent of all collective agreements in Ontario are reached without a strike or a lockout.

"Sometimes, it just can't get done. What we're seeing in the dispute at the colleges is two sides that just can't seem to have a meeting of the minds," he said.

"While the dispute's taking place, these students aren't in class."

But some students are wondering why the province didn't step in before now.

'Not the best result'

Gurpreet Singh Broca, a third-year civil engineering student at Cambrian College in Sudbury and elected director of the colleges international student services, says the province waited too long to act.

"It's a political gimmick," he said. "It's all a political drama."

Gurpreet Singh Broca is a student at Cambrian College in Sudbury and David Fasciano is a representative for the faculty union at College Boreal. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

David Fasciano, a representative for the faculty union at College Boreal in Sudbury, says the province's action isn't unexpected.

"It's not the best result that we were hoping for. We were seriously hoping for a negotiated settlement," he said.

"Legislation is probably the best we could hope for at this point."

Flynn says the province is not imposing a collective agreement. He says once the legislation is put forward, it will allow both sides to choose an arbitrator that they both agree on. If they can't agree, one will be appointed.

Both sides will present to the arbitrator and the arbitrator will provide an agreement for them.

"What it means though is the students in this province aren't held to ransom by the system," he said.

"As the minister of labour, I'm very comfortable with the process."

The Liberals worked to pass the back-to-work legislation Thursday night, but it was blocked by the NDP. The government will ask Ontario's legislation to meet again on Friday afternoon in an attempt to pass the legislation.