Teachers strike for better work conditions
Steven Le Sueur wasn’t expecting to hear that teachers are already burnt out just a month into the school year.
The president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) says that complaints usually come in January or February when teachers are pushing through to spring break. But the fact that teachers were already on the picket line Nov. 6 arguing for an increase in pay and improved working conditions shows just how dire the situation is at Quebec schools.
“My worry is that we’re already in a [teacher’s] shortage, and we are going to have burnouts happening more frequently,” says Le Sueur. “So, we have a shortage – I think everybody across Quebec knows that – and we’re trying to make the profession more attractive. There’s a workload issue. There’s a class composition issue. We need more support for our special needs. And, of course, remuneration; we’re the lowest entry-level pay for education for teachers across Canada, so we are looking to boost that and hopefully attract more people.”
Le Sueur says that Quebec teaching salaries are not comparable to those across the country. He says that with New Brunswick signing a new contract in September – a 15 per cent increase over five years –Quebec is now the province with the lowest teacher wages.
The Quebec government’s latest offer, a 10.3 per cent increase over five years for base salaries, was rejected by workers with the Common Front union (Front commun), which is composed of about 420,000 public sector workers, including teachers, who say the offer doesn’t even cover the cost of inflation. The workers have been without a contract for over a year.
“We feel like we are always fighting for everything we need in our classrooms,” says Wakefield Elementary teacher and union representative Shannon Langlois. “We’re not covered for inflation. Negotiations have been moving very slowly.”
Common Front workers, including health workers, are asking for an increase closer to 20 per cent over five years and call the government’s latest offer “insulting, offensive and contemptuous.”
Quebec-based Financial institutions Desjardins’ inflation projection over the next five years sits at 17.7 per cent, well over the government’s 10.3 per cent increase for public sector workers.
“Another slap in the face for 420,000 Front commun workers,” read a recent Common Front press release. “Too little, too late. It’s an insult. Front commun workers are done with turning the other cheek.”
It’s another added stress to teachers, parents and students who have endured a pandemic, a bus strike and now a teacher’s strike, with more planned action Nov. 21-23 if negotiations aren’t resolved.
“We haven’t had a normal year in a really, really long time,” adds Wakefield teacher Langlois. “And it affects us, and it affects the students by extension and the parents the same. It’s for [the students’] futures as well.”
Le Sueur said more strike actions are being planned for November for English school boards, while 65,000 French teachers with the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) have voted in favour of an unlimited strike beginning Nov. 23.
This strike would affect École au Coeur-des-Collines and Des Lacs High School in Masham, Grand-Boisé in Chelsea and École Orée-des-Bois and École de la Rose-des-Vents in Cantley.