(CUP) Negotiations between striking lecturers and the UniversitÃ© de MontrÃ©al continued on Wednesday, as strikers protested outside a ministry of education office in Montreal.
The two sides returned to the bargaining table on Tuesday, at the urging of Quebec’s education minister, after the lecturers rejected what the university had described as its “final offer” the night before.
Around 200 strikers and their supporters protested outside the education ministry office in Montreal, where U de M students protested the day before.
“The minister of education, Michelle Courchesne, has encouraged both parties to work harder in order to get an agreement, which I think is the right thing to do,” said Jean Trudelle, president of the FÃ©dÃ©ration nationale des enseignantes et enseignants du QuÃ©bec, which represents several university lecturers’ and tutors’ unions in the province, including the one at U de M.
“Today we’re trying to send a message to the University of Montreal to really and seriously negotiate.”
Last week the administration said they would cancel classes taught by lecturers 8212; around 20 per cent of total classes 8212; at Canada’s second-largest university. Professors, under different union representation, are not affected by the negotiations.
Under the administration’s plan, students in the cancelled lecturer-taught classes would be have been assigned readings for the remainder of the semester and still write final exams. The university said the move would allow students to finish their classes on time and will avoid the need to extend the semester into the summer.
But that plan seems to be off the table, at least for the moment 8212; in a terse statement released Tuesday afternoon, the university said they would not comment on the state of the negotiations or what measures would be taken if a deal could not be reached.
Both the lecturers and the school’s student union are opposed to the plan to cancel classes, which Trudelle described as “unthinkable.”
“If ever it goes that far, I’m sorry, but the university will have to take the blame,” he said. “It’s certainly not the union who will be responsible for that.
Students are also upset that they don’t know what’s going to happen to the rest of their semester.
“We haven’t heard anything from the university,” said Nicolas Descroix, secretary general of the FÃ©dÃ©ration des associations Ã©tudiantes du campus de l’UniversitÃ© de MontrÃ©al (FAÃ‰CUM), which represents over 33,000 U de M students.
About 350 U de M students protested outside the education ministry’s Montreal office on Tuesday afternoon, calling on the government to step in and end the strike.
Descroix said he was hoping to see “a conflict resolution today . . . so that the students will be able to return to classes (Wednesday) or Thursday.”
Descroix said FAÃ‰CUM has not taken a side in the dispute between lecturers and the administration 8212; “The only thing we want is for the conflict to end rapidly.”
He said he hopes that both sides take students, and the educational purpose of the university, into account.
Along with several other U de M students, Descroix spent the long weekend camped out in front of the provincial education ministry’s office as part of their campaign to get the province to step in.
FAÃ‰CUM has also threatened to take legal action against the university if classes are cancelled.
If the cancellation does go ahead, administrators will be on their own when it comes to assigning readings and marking exams. The union that represents professors at the university has directed its members not to take on any work that would have been done by lecturers.
The lecturers have been on strike for over a month, vying for an increase to lecturer salaries and a reduction in class sizes. Both sides have blamed the other for the failure to reach an agreement.
While the two sides have moved closer together on the issue of salaries, they are still far apart on the issue of class sizes.
But Trudelle remains confident. “”We’re going to have an agreement, I’m sure about that,” he said.
On Monday, Luc Granger, vice-rector of professional services for the university, described the union’s position as “extremist” after union officials encouraged their members to vote against the supposed “final” offer.
Sixty-four per cent of union members voted against the “final offer” late Monday night, with 74 per cent then voting to extend the strike indefinitely.