Ontario college students worried over condensed semester as 5-week strike ends

Ontario college students are scrambling to get ready for class on Tuesday after the Liberal government's back-to-work legislation passed on Sunday, ending the longest strike in the province's history.

500,000 students are expected back in class Tuesday after the province passed back-to-work legislation

Fanshawe College students display placards expressing their eagerness to return to class and end a five-week labour dispute between faculty and Ontario colleges. (Colin Butler/CBC News )

Ontario college students are scrambling to get ready for class on Tuesday after the Liberal government's back-to-work legislation passed on Sunday, ending the longest strike in the province's history. 

"I think it's going to be a very high pressure situation. Its going to be very stressful. Things are going to be very condensed, going to move very fast," said Centennial College student April Heighwey.

Roughly 500,000 students at Ontario's 24 colleges impacted by the five-week strike are expected to return to class Tuesday. 

Ontario college strike ends after 5 weeks

5 years ago
Duration 2:23
Ontario's college strike is over after the provincial government passed back-to-work legislation during a rare weekend sitting. Hundreds of thousands of students are expected to return to class after the five-week strike by 12,000 college employees

While Heighway says she has been keeping up with coursework during her time off, she still expects a challenge getting caught up with where she is supposed to be.

"Right before we left, we were going to have midterms so in the next week or so we could be having those," she said.

Edith Denton, a Humber College student who went to the legislature to watch the vote, says she is also not convinced colleges can get back into the swing of things quickly.

"The likelihood that we've retained all the information that we did get in the 24 days that we had of school — it's going to be very difficult for a lot of students," Denton told CBC Toronto. 

Many colleges will be extending their fall semesters as late as Dec. 22, but Heighway says its still all very unclear.

"Everything is still up in there. When are we going to graduate? When is our semester going to end?" she asked.

Ontario's striking college faculty voted to reject a contract offer from the College Employer Council last Thursday. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The president of Ontario's College Student Alliance, Joe Willet, agrees that it will be very difficult for students to complete the condensed semesters. He wants to make provisions for students who can't complete it.

"We have been advocating as well to be able to have options for students who don't feel successful in completing their semester to be able to get a refund and leave the college system at this time," Willet said.

He added that conversations are still in progress, but Ontario's Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews confirmed there is a plan underway to set up a "hardship fund."

"So we have directed the colleges to set aside the net savings from the strike as they have not been paying faculty through the strike, and we will very soon be able to talk about how that money will be dispersed. It will be returned to students, those who are facing the greatest financial needs," she said after the legislation passed at Queen's Park Sunday.

Matthews could not confirm at this time how much money is available or exactly who will be getting the refunds.

But Willet says it could all be too late.

"This deal should have been done weeks ago. On Nov. 7 we asked both parties to take this to binding-arbitration. We had great communication with them up to that point but as soon as we asked for that...both parties stopped talking to us," he recalled Sunday.

Back-to-work legislation passed 39-18

The province intervened in the bargaining process last Thursday and gave the two parties, OPSEU and the CEC, until that evening to reach an agreement. 

But the faculty overwhelmingly shot down the CEC's latest offer by 86 per cent. As a result, Premier Kathleen Wynne's government attempted to quickly push the back-to-work legislation through Queen's Park, but the move, which required unanimous consent by all parties to pass, was blocked by the NDP. All parties subsequently agreed to a special weekend session and the legislation was passed 39-18.

OPSEU and the CEC are now mandated to take their bargaining to mediation-arbitration. 

In a news release on Sunday, the province said: "The College Employer Council and OPSEU have five days to agree on a mediator-arbitrator, or one will be appointed by the Minister of Labour."