Negotiations are set to resume Thursday in a colleges strike that has left hundreds of thousands of students out of class for more than two weeks.
More than 12,000 Ontario college professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians went on strike Oct. 15. There have been no talks since then, but the advanced education minister announced Wednesday that both sides are returning to the table.
“This is an important step forward, but I’m going to continue to urge both parties to actually negotiate an agreement,” said Deb Matthews. “Students should be back in the classroom … as quickly as possible.”
The colleges’ bargaining team said in a news release moments before Matthews’ announcement that they were calling on the mediator to bring both sides back to the table.
“This strike has gone on for too long,” Sonia Del Missier, the head of the bargaining team, said in a statement. “We will focus our efforts at the table and work very hard to reach a deal that ends the strike.”
Del Missier said she believes a settlement can be reached quickly and classes could resume early next week.
The Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, which represents the striking workers, said they are hopeful the colleges have changed some aspects of their position, since the mediator had said there wouldn’t be a return to the table unless one party’s position had changed.
“We want to hear what the council has to say and we’re ready to bargain if they’re ready to start addressing faculty issues,” said bargaining team chair JP Hornick.
“Realistically the ball is in their court at this point. We had moved our position several times over the course of bargaining.”
The union has called for the number of full-time faculty to match the number of faculty members on contract, but the colleges have said it would add more than $250 million in costs each year.
But Hornick said equally big issues are no cost items such as academic freedom.
The union had scheduled a rally for Thursday to call on the colleges to return to the bargaining table.
The colleges have put forward a four-year-agreement that offers a 7.75-per-cent pay increase.
In the meantime, more than 120,000 people have signed a petition calling for students to receive tuition reimbursement for each day lost to a the strike.
With a file from News Staff