Teachers in Quebec union vote to keep option open to strike for up to five days

Dissatisfied with the progress of contract negotiations, education workers in the CSQ union have voted 73 per cent in favour of a five-day strike mandate.

Among its 200,000 union members, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec has 125,000 in the education sector, divided between preschool, elementary, secondary, college, vocational training and adult education.

They include teachers, support staff and education professionals (psychologists, speech therapists and others).

The strike mandate is the "equivalent" of a five-day strike, meaning the time could be taken separately, consecutively, or even in half-days.

The decision on when and how the strike will be called has not yet been made by the General Bargaining Council, CSQ president Sonia Éthier said at a news conference on Monday.

A possible strike in the education sector would not be subject to essential services provisions, as is the case in the health sector.

"Teachers who provide courses for orderlies and nursing assistants would be affected by a strike in the education sector," said Josée Scalabrini, president of the Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement de la CSQ.

'WE'VE TRIED EVERYTHING'

Éthier and the federation presidents said they're not seeking a strike, but rather an agreement with the Quebec government after a year of negotiations to renew the collective agreement.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Éthier said she believes the public will support her members.

"There's never a good time to strike; we're all aware of that here," she said.

But she said she believes the public understands that the staff has been tested by years of budget cuts and a lack of human resources to support teachers.

"There's a shortage of teachers right now, and too many new teachers leave within the first five years," she said.

As for professionals such as psychologists, many prefer to leave the public sector for the private sector, where they are much better paid and don't have to deal with waiting lists, said Jacques Landry, president of the Fédération des professionnels de l'éducation de la CSQ.

He said that a psychologist in a school setting earns $26 to $49 an hour, while speech therapists, psychoeducators and pedagogical advisors earn between $25 and $45 an hour.

A strike is the final option, said Éthier.

"And when we get there, it's because we tried everything else and the government turned a deaf ear to our demands," she said.

THE MINISTRY HAS MADE PROPOSALS

As for the Quebec government, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge's office has said it is making every effort to reach an agreement "as soon as possible."

"We are working hard at the tables to agree on measures that will provide our teachers with better working conditions and more support for students," he replied.

He recalled that he has already committed to raising the starting salary for teachers from $46,000 to $50,000.

He also proposed to better recognize former teachers who will act as "teacher emeritus."

He said he is prepared to free teachers from recess supervision duties through pilot projects.

He also said he has already proposed "concrete measures to promote the stability of school teams in disadvantaged areas." 

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