ANTIGONISH – Kyle Fraser didn’t go to class yesterday and it’s not likely that he’ll be going today even though he wants to be there.
The New Glasgow native is a third year student at St. Francis Xavier University where Monday teachers began picketing.
The issues behind the strike are a bit blurry to him, he admits, but what is clear is that this is going to impact him and the other students who attend the school.
As opposed to using this time as a vacation break, Fraser said students have been encouraged by teachers to use it as an office week to catch up on reading and prepare for when classes do resume.
“That’s what I’m trying to do, because it’s so unsure how long it’s going to last,” he said.
For the sake of keeping his education plans on track, he’s hoping that the university and the teachers resolve the issue as soon as possible.
“We don’t want to be cramming the material in at the last minute,” he said. “It could have a big impact on us.”
Although there are many students stressed out with fears that the strike could last a long time and affect their graduation, he said that the teachers did a good job preparing students for the strike beforehand and now that it’s on, the student union has stepped up to offer activities to keep students busy on campus.
“They’re actually doing a really good job of that,” he said. “They’re always emailing us and posting links. They’re doing a good job of keeping us in the loop.”
Another Pictou County native who goes to school at St. FX, Sarah Smith, said it’s just not a great time during the semester for a strike to be happening.
“I understand that the union chose to do this through the academic year as it would pressure the university to negotiate and settle quickly, however, that leaves many problems for the students,” she said. “Seeing as it is close to midterms, many profs have left new concepts up to students to teach themselves or at least attempt to during the strike. Some courses this is not a big issue, but for some it leaves many students in a tough place with a lot of pressure if this material is on the midterms.”
Communications director Cindy MacKenzie said the picketing was happening peacefully on Monday.
“We are saddened by the strike and its impact on students,” she said, reiterating the university’s position that their offer is fair and reasonable and one that compares to regional and national settlements.
She said the minimal salary increase would be almost seven per cent over four years with an average increase of 16 per cent for the same time period. She said the latest offer had significant improvements to job security and benefits as well.
“The bottom line is that government cuts to post secondary education have put the university into a deficit and that will result to cuts in programs and services and make any settlement difficult,” she said.
Meanwhile the St. FX Association of University Teachers say that high quality education of students is a priority for them.
“Although we regret the impact of the labour disruption on students, by exercising our democratic right to strike, the association hopes to avoid the further erosion of the quality of education at St. FX in the long term, and to ensure a fair and equitable settlement for our diverse membership," AUT president Peter McInnis said in a release.
The association represents over 400 members engaged in teaching and research at St. FX. Over one-third is vulnerable due to limited-term contracts with limited or no benefits, the association claims. The AUT reports that members who fall within this vulnerable group make on average $25,000 per year, receive no health benefits, and are only employed on eight-month contracts.
“We cannot accept the broad disparities the administration is trying to impose on us that would compromise the academic mission of this institution by undermining job security for academic staff,” said McInnis.