Ontario's Liberals have introduced legislation that would force an end to the province's longest college strike, but thousands of frustrated Toronto students are slamming the government's slow response and the colleges for jeopardizing their school year.
"The number one people who are missing out right now are the people who haven't done anything — and that's the students," said George Brown College student Hannah White-Halliwell.
"We have no say over our schedule or our own lives right now."
Disappointed and financially burdened students who have been barred from class since mid-October due a labour dispute affecting 24 Ontario colleges launched a class action lawsuit this week to try and recover tuition costs.
The notice of action alleges the colleges breached contracts with students by failing to provide vocational training and a full term of classes.
The legal action is helping draw attention to students' voices, said Joel Willett, president of the College Student Alliance, who added they are "being ignored" by the College Employer Council (CEC) and Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).
Willett blames both sides for prolonging the strike, now in its fifth week.
"It's very disappointing to see that while both sides say they were in this for the students, both sides didn't listen to the student voice that was at the table," he told CBC Toronto.
After two days of voting between OPSEU and CEC, they reached an impasse Thursday after 86 per cent of faculty voted to reject the latest contract offer from the colleges.
As a result, Premier Kathleen Wynne met with representatives Thursday from both sides and stepped in and proposed back-to-work legislation that would force them into binding arbitration and end the strike.
The legislature is scheduled to meet Saturday to debate the government's legislation.
JP Hornick, chair of OPSEU's faculty bargaining team, says the timeline leaves little chance for quality education.
"These are students who have gone through five weeks of anxiety and turmoil and they're not just going to waltz back into the classroom ready to go," she said, adding the same is true for faculty.
Roughly 500,000 students have been concerned about their school year with many colleges throughout the province rolling out revised semester plans to cope with the disruption.
The fall semester at many schools will be extended into the week starting Dec. 18, with some colleges like George Brown finishing as late as Dec. 22.
Wynne also ordered the province's colleges to create a dedicated fund with all the savings from the strike, made up of unpaid wages to striking staff and other savings from not operating the schools, to help students experiencing financial hardship.