Quebec teachers’ unions call for better working conditions to address staff shortages
By Thomas MacDonald
Unions representing Quebec teachers are calling on the provincial government to address staff shortages by improving working conditions, after a recent report indicated as many as 5,000 positions were vacant ahead of the start to the school year.
Labour leaders held a joint news conference on Monday morning to issue what they characterized as an urgent plea for the government to better support school employees, including teachers, administrators, psychologists, speech therapists and other professionals.
The appeal came as teachers’ unions renegotiate a collective agreement with Quebec that expired at the end of March.
Josee Scalabrini, president of the Federation des syndicats de l’enseignement, an association of 34 Quebec teachers’ unions, told reporters that classrooms have become unmanageable due to chronic neglect by successive governments over the past two decades.
“We’ve been saying for a long time that the composition of classes in Quebec no longer makes any sense,” she said, pointing in part to a lack of resources to manage the number of students who have learning difficulties.
Teachers’ workloads have become unsustainable as a result, she explained, calling on Quebec to “lighten the load before we let go.”
Scalabrini insisted that negotiations should focus on classroom conditions to encourage teachers to stay in the profession and help them “rediscover” their calling — a passion she said has been “uprooted” by government inaction.
Monday’s news conference followed findings from an organization representing Quebec school administrators — Federation quebecoise des directions d’etablissement d’enseignement — that suggested as many as 5,000 full- and part-time teaching positions were still vacant in the province ahead of the start of the school year next week.
Quebec Education Minister Bernard Drainville has reportedly conceded that it will not be possible to find enough fully qualified teachers by then. The goal, he has told reporters, is to instead have one adult per class.
But tapping unqualified individuals to lead classrooms could just make the situation worse by further straining existing teachers, according to Steven Le Sueur?, president of the Quebec Professional Association of Teachers, a union with more than 8,000 members.
“It’s definitely not a good idea,” Le Sueur said in a phone interview. “When we get somebody that doesn’t know what they’re doing,” he said, “we have a bigger burden on the other teachers in the schools that are going to step up and help that person.
“It’s just a heavy burden, all around.”
Le Sueur agreed the government needs to improve working conditions to address the root cause of the staff shortage in schools. He, like Scalabrini, pointed to a “lack of support for our special needs and at-risk kids.”
The result, he suggested, has been a vicious cycle that has gutted the labour force and discouraged students from entering education programs.
“We’re in crisis,” Le Sueur said.
Teaching, he added, is “just becoming less and less attractive.”
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