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Ontario college students fear labour impasse could disrupt academic school year

'Every day that tensions are escalated, (it) hurts students and their ability to learn, creating even more anxiety,' says student leader
2018-07-27 Georgian College RB
Georgian College's Barrie campus. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

Student associations are asking for good-faith bargaining between Ontario college negotiators and the union representing faculty amid stalled new contract talks.

The collective agreement involving full-time and partial-load professors, instructors, librarians and counsellors expired Sept. 30, 2021. Contract negotiations have been unsuccessful, leading to potential labour action among college faculty, such as a strike or work-to-rule.

This impasse has also left the education of more than 240,000 students across 24 Ontario colleges  including Georgian College in Barrie  in a state of uncertainty, along with the working conditions of some 15,000 college faculty members across the province.

“Students and their families are now worried if their semester will be disrupted by a faculty strike or an escalation of work-to-rule (which began March 2),” Fanshawe Student Union president Ricardo Souza said in a news release. “This can cause further stress as it may affect their ability to complete their program requirements on time, or in a rushed manner like the 2017 faculty strike.

“Every day that tensions are escalated, (it) hurts students and their ability to learn, creating even more anxiety. We eagerly await a resolution to this ongoing situation," Souza added. 

Talks have stalled between the College Employer Council (CEC), which represents Ontario’s 24 public colleges in negotiating collective agreements, and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). Unresolved issues include an annual wage increase, benefits coverage, service time and job security.

OPSEU said members voted 59 per cent in favour of a strike mandate in December.

On Friday, 15 college student associations sent an open letter to the CEC, OPSEU and Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities. It spoke of a fear that students will see a repeat of the 2017 strike, which left students feeling their year was rushed and incomplete, and that they were left unprepared for employment. 

And there is disappointment that students are caught in the middle of these negotiations, while the quality of their education and college experience will suffer. 

Also noted is this is happening alongside the ongoing  pandemic, and the restrictions and difficulties it poses to students. The letter says students are already experiencing surges in mental health crises and financial insecurity. 

It states the impact further job action could have on students is immeasurable, and they insist negotiations not further disrupt students’ lives and for assurances they can enjoy a return to normal college routine as soon as possible.

“Students have faced a wide array of challenges during the past two years as learning environments have changed,” Souza said. “The student experience has diminished, and students are once again caught in the middle of contract negotiations.”

The president of the Georgian College Students’ Association at its Barrie campus declined comment when contacted by BarrieToday on Friday afternoon.

A spokesperson at Georgian College’s Barrie campus also declined comment Friday, referring questions to the CEC.