Open this photo in gallery: Faculty members walk the picket line at a Humber College campus in Toronto on Wednesday November 8, 2017. Ontario’s colleges have launched a website they say will allow striking faculty members to see for themselves what’s in their employers’ latest contract offer ahead of a vote this week.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young College students in Ontario are a step away from returning to class after a back-to-work bill passed third reading in the legislature on Sunday in a rare weekend sitting.
The bill is expected to come into force later on Sunday when it receives royal assent from Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, marking the first time in the 50-year-history of the province’s colleges that striking faculty have been forced back into the classroom.
"This is a last resort," said Deb Matthews, minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development. "We did everything we could to avoid being here."
The government’s intervention ends the five-week-long strike by 12,000 college workers that left 500,000 students worried about losing the semester.
Many colleges are expected to resume classes on Tuesday, though formal announcements had not yet been made, and help make up lost time by trimming the holiday break.
"Every single program is going to have a recovery plan," said Anne Sado, president of George Brown College, adding that faculty would return to work in advance of students to sort out program adjustments.
Chris Whitaker, president of Humber College, said administrators are planning to make the return to class as smooth as possible for students.
"We are committed to not losing the semester. It’s very difficult for students and their families to go through a strike but we pull through," he said.
The provincial legislature sat during the weekend to pass the back-to-work legislation after the New Democrats refused to agree to a government request for all parties to support the bill.
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government tabled Bill 178 on Thursday after meeting with both sides and failing to urge them to negotiate a deal or agree to binding arbitration. Earlier on Thursday, the results of a vote on the colleges’ offer by instructors showed they had overwhelmingly rejected it, with 86 per cent opposed.
Opposition parties criticized the government for not bringing the two sides together weeks ago.
Thousands of students have protested the disruption, marching in front of the Ontario Legislature and signing online petitions demanding a refund of their tuition fees for the missed classes. With a provincial election in six months, the legislation is a recognition by the government that it cannot allow students to lose their term.
Some colleges have extended classes to the week of Dec 18. Students who have to postpone holiday travel plans, pay extra rent or face other financial stresses will be able to apply for assistance, the province has said. The grants will be funded from the savings colleges have accrued during the strike. Savings in the 2006 labour disruption were estimated at $5-million.
Negotiations initially broke down over the percentage of faculty who are hired part-time, with the union wanting to see an even split between the ranks of full– and part-time staff. Faculty also want more academic freedom.
With files from Simona Chiose
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