Striking college faculty workers are calling on the Ontario government to pressure college administrators to return to the bargaining table in a labour dispute that’s caused headaches for half a million students, but the province said it has no current plans to intervene.
At a rally outside the Ministry of Advanced Education’s offices on Wednesday, the president of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union — which represents the striking workers — said the province needs to urge the College Employer Council to restart talks.
As the funder of Ontario’s 24 colleges the government has the ability to get colleges to return to negotiations, Warren “Smokey” Thomas noted.
“The premier can say to the employer side … get back to that table, open your mind up a little bit and do some of the things that the workforce is saying would make education better,” he said. “A lot of these things cost no money.”
The strike involving more than 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians began on Oct. 15, after the two sides couldn’t resolve their differences by a deadline of 12:01 a.m. the next day.
The union wants an even split between full-time and contract faculty positions, but the colleges have said that would add more than $250 million costs each year.
Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews said Wednesday that the province needs to let the collective bargaining system work.
She added, however, that she shares the growing frustration students have with the labour dispute that has cancelled classes.
“This is really unfortunate that this is dragging … without them actually talking to each other,” she said. “If they were at the table, if they were hammering out the issues, I’d have a different opinion, but the fact that they’re not even finding a way to get to the table is very troubling.”
Don Sinclair, CEO of the College Employer Council, said the colleges are ready and able to return to table.
A resolution could be found based on the council’s final offer to the union, he said.
“OPSEU are the ones who created the strike and they walked away from the table,” he said. “They know where the settlement zone is, they’ve just elected not to seek it.”
Both the union and colleges said Wednesday that there are currently no bargaining talks scheduled.