Conestoga College students to be back in class Tuesday morning

Conestoga College students will be back in the classroom Tuesday morning. But NDP MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, Catherine Fife, says back-to-work legislation is not the answer.

Back-to-work legislation is not the answer, says NDP MPP Catherine Fife

Hallways at Doon campus were empty as students waited five weeks for the faculty strike to end. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Conestoga College students will be back in the classroom Tuesday morning after the provincial government passed back-to-work legislation Sunday to end a five-week faculty strike.

The government introduced the bill Friday after faculty rejected the employer's last offer by 86 per cent. 

However, the NDP opposed the bill, forcing all parties worked through the weekend to finish the process. The legislation then passed Sunday afternoon by a vote of 39 to 18.

Students back in class

In a statement to students, Conestoga College said faculty would return to work on Monday to revise their courses and classes would resume Tuesday morning.

"We know that it's going to be a difficult process," said Aimee Calma, president of Conestoga Students Inc. and director of the College Student Alliance, but she added that most students are relieved to be returning to school.

Stop and listen and give these students the time and the credit that they're due after what they've been put through.- Aimee Calma, president of Conestoga Students Inc.

"It's unfortunate that this is the way it had to happen," she said, referring to the back-to-work legislation.

"No one likes it to be this way, but at the end of the day the students are going to be back in class getting what they need and we're going to be there to support them to make sure that they're as successful as they can be with the rest of this semester."

Listen to your students

When students return to the classroom, Calma said faculty and administrators will need to be "patient, calm and kind."

"Their students have been through a lot in the last five weeks," she said. "We need to really stop and listen and give these students the time and the credit that they're due after what they've been put through."

She points out that the students, who paid for a full semester of classes, have been outside of the classroom more than they have been inside it.

Although some students will be able to complete their courses in a condensed semester, Calma said others do not see that as an option.

"We've been advocating for students who don't feel that they can be successful in a condensed semester to be able to withdraw and to receive their tuition back," she said.

Conestoga students aren't the only one's asking for their money back. Students across the province are calling for refunds for time lost during the strike. 

Monday morning, Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews provided more details around what that compensation would look like.

It will include: 

  • A full tuition refund for students who decide to withdraw from the semester due to the strike.
  • The extension of OSAP into December to compensate for extended semesters.
  • Reimbursement of child care fees, rent and re-booked transit tickets up to $500.

Condensed semester

The fall semester at Conestoga Colleges has been extended to allow students to complete the semester. Classes will continue until Dec. 22 and resume on Jan. 2.

"The past few weeks have been very difficult for students," Mike Dinning, vice president of student affairs, said in a press release​. "I want to assure you that we recognize your concerns and are committed to helping you in your efforts to succeed as you continue with your studies."

Students are being told they will need to follow the same timetable they were given at the beginning of the semester. Revised course expectations will be explained during the first week back.

Dinning also said in his statement the end of the strike "calls for the appointment of a mediator-arbitrator who will have the exclusive power to determine all matters necessary to conclude a new collective agreement."

He adds that this process will not interfere with classes or other college operations.

Strike was worth it

Lana-Lee Hardacre, president of OPSEU Local 237, said faculty has high hopes for arbitration and is happy to be back in the classroom.

Although it didn't result in an agreement, Hardacre said the strike was worth it. 

"We started a movement where we were bringing attention to the precarious work in post-secondary education and other people will carry on our work throughout the world," she said.

'Back-to-work legislation not the answer'

Though thousands of students will go back to class this week, Catherine Fife, NDP MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, told CBC News that the back to work legislation was not the way to end the labour dispute. 

"We spoke obviously against the legislation because we do not believe it's the answer to the problem that colleges are experiencing and it certainly does not prove an option to students as they go back to class," she said

"We still have a majority of faculty who will be temporary, part-time workers, there are challenges in supporting students properly on our campuses.This does not resolve that and there are still no concrete plans to compensate students, who have paid dearly for the strike."