As Ontario’s legislative assembly recessed for its two-month winter break, back-to-work legislation aimed at ending an five-week old strike at York University was nowhere to be seen.
The strike, which began Nov. 6, has resulted in cancelled classes for 50,000 students who are now facing the prospect of a lost semester.
Talks between the University and CUPE 3903, which were supervised by a provincial mediator, broke down just days into negotiations. The two sides were unable to reach any kind of agreement and the mediator called off talks, saying they were not making any progress.
Students have called on the government to enact back-to-work legislation so they can return to classes and not be at a disadvantage next year as they compete for summer jobs and places at graduate school.
“Universities are autonomous institutions,” says Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities John Milloy. “It’s very unfortunate that there is a strike situation at York; we are encouraging both sides to get back to the table.”
Both opposition parties spent the last day of the legislative year calling on the government to take action to end the strike, although the two parties disagree on how exactly this might happen.
The Progressive Conservatives are calling for back-to-work legislation and binding arbitration. The New Democrats are calling on the government to pressure the university to make a better offer to the union.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful that [Premier] Dalton McGuinty hasn’t brought in legislation at this point.” says Jim Wilson, education critic for the official opposition Progressive Conservatives. “It’s unconscionable… students have been left to fend on their own.”
“I’m hoping the Minister will, in the next day or two, force the university to come to a fair settlement,” says Rosario Marchese, NDP education critic.
Marchese says the problem has been brewing for a long time. He says government underfunding has resulted in universities balancing their books by hiring casual contract instructors instead of full-time faculty. One of the union’s issues in the strike is job security for contract faculty.
“I’m hoping that in the next day or two [the strike] will be solved, and I’m hoping the Minister is going to push them to solve it,” says Marchese.
The Tories are calling for the resignation of the Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities citing the York strike and a scathing report by the provincial Auditor General on provincial training programs.
With labour unrest looming at the University of Toronto, Wilson is concerned more students will find themselves caught up in the growing labour turmoil with no hope of government action to assist them.
“This government has no plan to deal with these things and doesn’t seem to care.”