The Ontario government has introduced legislation ordering striking academic staff at York University to return to work after spending four months on the picket lines.
The proposed legislation covers the almost 2,000 teaching and graduate assistants at the Toronto institution who have been on strike since March to protest against job insecurity in the longest-running industrial dispute at an English-speaking university in Canada.
A further 1,100 members of contract staff had also been on strike, but they returned to work after an agreement was reached last month.
The legislation, which forms part of a bill called the “Urgent Priorities Act”, was one of the first moves made by the province’s new centre-right government, led by the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario’s Doug Ford. The “Back to Class” portion covering York ends the strike, bans any lockouts and refers all outstanding issues to a mediator-arbitrator.
It claims that about 37,100 students are enrolled in at least one course that is unable to progress while the strike continues, and that some 45,000 students are missing grades that would be available but for the ongoing dispute.
The former Ontario government under the Liberal Party introduced a back-to-work bill in early May, but parliament dissolved for upcoming elections before the legislation could be passed.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario have opposed the new legislation.
Devin Lefebvre, chairperson of the local branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which organised the strike action, said that the legislation “gives York exactly what they’ve wanted from the beginning and it absolves them from having to take responsibility for the quality of education the university provides”.
CUPE has called for longer contracts and more full-time opportunities for casual staff, for year-round funding for teaching and graduate assistants – many of whom are not paid over the summer – and for more job opportunities for master’s students.