School support staff could be ready to strike if no progress made on working conditions

As Quebec's schools are pushed to the brink by the COVID-19 pandemic, protesting union members say long hours and low pay are making it harder to hire the staff needed to keep them open.

On Saturday, a demonstration was held outside Education Ministry offices decrying the conditions of school support workers such as teacher's aides, secretaries, daycare educators and student supervisors.

The government has promised to hire 2,000 more support staff during the pandemic, but the demonstrators said thus far, their complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

“When we talk about schools, we always talk about the teachers and never talk about our jobs,” said Jysele Dupuis, a retired school support staffer. “No teacher could do their job if we weren't there.”

Pierrick Choiniere-Lapointe of the SEPB-Quebec union said working conditions predate COVID-19.

“These conditions were there before the pandemic, but the pandemic made things worse,” he said. “The fact we're missing some people in our class of employment.”

Choiniere-Lapointe added that during the pandemic, schools are even more short staffed and burn out has become a bigger problem. His message to Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge was a simple one: “Hear us.”

“Hear us being serious. Hear our demands, discuss our demands. We're not just looking for money, we're looking to make our working conditions better.”

For the past nine months, union officials have met with the Education Ministry once a week, but representatives said the government has not budged. Of the union's 7,000 members, officials said 60 per cent are willing to strike if progress isn't made soon.


Stay up-to-date and in-the-know by subscribing to one of our newsletters