Is Québec’s public education system in jeopardy?

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Laurent Robillard-Cardinal

The collective agreement between the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) and the Western Quebec Teachers’ Association will expire at the end of March, 2015. If  not renewed, collective agreements typically repeat themselves until a new agreement is reached.
“The first and most critical level of

Laurent Robillard-Cardinal

The collective agreement between the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) and the Western Quebec Teachers’ Association will expire at the end of March, 2015. If  not renewed, collective agreements typically repeat themselves until a new agreement is reached.
“The first and most critical level of
collective bargaining begins at the
provincial level with the Treasury Board. That is where the action is at the moment,” said WQSB President James Shea. Negotiations at the provincial level include provincial intersectorial matters and
provincial sectorial matters.
Intersectorial matters include salaries, pension plans, group insurance plans, regional disparities and parental rights. Those matters are negotiated by the Québec Treasury Board and unions. The Treasury Board, Chaired by Martin Coiteux, Member for Nelligan, has made a five-year offer to all public sector workers, about 400,000 people, represented by the common front negotiators.
The Treasury Board’s offer raised the ire of many teacher associations, including the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT), representing about 8,000 teachers in the English school boards.
“The government’s offer is an attack on teachers and their ability to help their
students,” said Richard Goldfinch, QPAT President; “Quebec teachers have been the lowest paid in Canada for some time and a salary freeze for the first two years with only 1% increases for the next three means we will continue to lose buying power to
inflation.” The increase is 3% over five years.
“The government’s proposals respect the established framework, and respect Quebecers’ ability to pay. The government’s financial position is serious. That’s why the government is asking everyone, including state employees, to do their part,” said Coiteux, Treasury Board Chair, arguing the offers are reasonable; he did not refer to payments to parting ministers, such as Minister Bolduc who left cabinet with well over a half-million dollars in bonus-like
payments.
“The government will negotiate in the whole community’s interest. We will
negotiate what is reasonable in the context of public finances and respect citizens’
ability to pay,” said Minister Coiteux. “I invite unions not to approach this round of negotiations in a confrontational way, but rather to see the opportunity of collective responsibility and the challenge of public finances. I invite our union partners to be agents of change. The government wants to reach an agreement negotiated in good faith.”     
The offer also forecasts changes to teacher’s pensions in 2017. The offer on the table would see the age for an unreduced pension rise from 60 to 62 years old. Calculating an average salary would also change by replacing the best-five for the best-eight years.