Opinion: Strike issues were not resolved

The back-to-work legislation that forces college teachers back into the classroom might end the five-week long college strike, but it does not solve any of the issues the teachers were striking for in the first place.

The issues teachers were striking for included better job security as part-time instructors, and for raises to match rising living costs. They also petitioned for more full-time positions for teachers, and more say in decision-making with the administration.

Carleton University came close to striking in March 2017. Contract instructors and teaching assistants that were part of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4600 were looking to have their collective agreement renewed with better wages for the work they were doing. The picket lines were set, some 8:30 a.m. classes cancelled, and the strike was then called off and negotiations moved forward. Ontario colleges had no such luck.

Union strikes for schools are effective in pushing negotiations forward because no one wants students to be harmed. The threat of a strike more often than not remains only a threat, as with Carleton. However, the college strike went on without any end in sight, and has only ended because teachers on strike are now being forced back to work without any of the negotiation issues being solved.

Students all over the province were severely affected by the strike. From paying tuition for classes not taking place, to paying rent to stay in a city where they study, to food and all the other living expenses that come with being a post-secondary student, college students were financially hurt by the prolonged strike.

However, it seems as though only after students decided to file a class-action lawsuit against their colleges demanding tuition and living expense refunds, did any sort of action take place. The fact that students had missed five weeks of school already did not seem to push any sort of action on the part of the province, which begs the question of why the province chose this moment specifically to force teachers back to work.

The reimbursements available for students, both domestic and international, are scant. At a maximum of $500, the amount does not cover the tuition paid during the strike time, rent costs, and other general living costs. Being able to request additional OSAP only means that students have more debt to repay, and they are not compensated for the classroom time lost during the strike either.

Fairer compensation to students would be full tuition refunds for time lost during the strike, as well as full reimbursement of living expenses. Instead of students having to make up time during holidays and breaks, colleges should allow for fast-tracking and reduced course material. Students have been caught in a crossfire that has harmed them financially, academically, and likely had a detrimental effect on their mental health. To force teachers back to work without regard for their requests or their rights does nothing to compensate college students for the losses they have faced.

Teachers having more rights goes hand-in-hand with better education standards for colleges, giving more to the students in question.

The back-to-work legislation rejects the voice of teachers and their right to request better conditions, and ultimately shows a disregard for the students.

Photo by Trevor Swann