Teachers’ negotiations off to rocky start; strike foreseen

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CARL HAGER

GATINEAU – Quebec teachers, including those working for the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) made their way to Quebec City to demonstrate against provincial contract offers, on Saturday, June 10. The current contract expired this past March and negotiations are underway.

Brian Smeltzer, President of the Western Quebec Teachers’ Association says that the CAQ government has made very poor opening offers. “We want the government to respect the work teachers do and to recognize the additional resources needed in schools to help children with special needs. Nothing in the current government offer helps teachers with these challenges. It looks like teachers will have to take action to be heard by Legault’s government.”

He noted the government wants to remove all coding and “weighting” of children with special needs, a program created to help allocate special resources in schools. For example, a student evaluated as having a behaviour problem may be given a “weighting” of 4; this means when class sizes are determined that student would count as 4 students compared to another student without a behaviour problem.

Instead, the government says it will find and allocate four thousand helpers for Quebec classrooms. Smeltzer commented: “This means maybe one helper per school, a whopping decrease of support. Schools really need specially trained assistants, more psychologists, resource people and those trained to work with behaviour challenged children. This is an issue we have perennially struggled with and it does not appear the government is taking our concerns seriously.”

The government is offering less than a 2% pay raise per year over a proposed five year contract and pensions are also slated to change. A full pension will come only after 35 full years of service and be available only at 57 years of age; this is a decrease from the previous agreement which gave teachers the ability to retire without penalty at 65 or at age 60 with 30 years of service.

Smeltzer says the government has indicated it wants to settle with teachers as early as June this year. “They say they want to make offers that help retain teachers in the profession but these offers are not what we expected. Unless things dramatically improve at the negotiation table, we will probably be seeking strike mandates in the fall,” he concluded.