Teachers with the Chateauguay Valley Teachers Association (CVTA) have added their voices to a resounding demand for change they hope will resonate with the provincial government.
CVTA members voted 99 per cent in favour of strike action during a virtual assembly on October 11, which CVTA president Nick Ross suggests is the highest result he can remember in the association’s history.
The meeting was attended by François Breault, the lead negotiator for the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) which represents the CVTA and is affiliated with the Central des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), who provided an overview of the negotiations process to date. Ross says the presentation gave members “a very clear understanding of what is going on and not going on so far at the negotiation tables.”
QPAT is part of what is being called the “Front commun” for this round of public sector negotiations. It groups together the CSQ, CSN, APTS, and FTQ labour federations and collectively represents over 420,000 workers in the education, health, and social services sectors.
The decision whether to launch strike action as far as an unlimited general walkout is not being taken lightly. Union members across the common front have been voting during general assemblies since September, with 95 per cent returning a positive vote to strike. The Front commun says the mandate to initiate strike action is historic and without precedent over the past 50 years. The unions suggest the strength of the mandate reveals a lot about what workers employed in public services are currently feeling.
“Teachers are frustrated that negotiations are once again dragging on with the Quebec government and want to get a fair deal negotiated, so they can focus even more of their efforts on the students in their classrooms,” says Ross.
He highlights the fact that working conditions for teachers need to be improved if Quebec is going to be able to attract new teachers and retain those already in the profession. “There is a serious shortage of teachers right now, especially in the rural areas of the province like ours; the government needs to address this problem through negotiating a good contract with the teachers.”
At the moment, Quebec is offering a nine per cent increase over five years and a lump sum payment of $1,000 which falls well short of the government’s own inflation forecasts – meaning teachers will lose purchasing power over the life of the contract.
“The working conditions of the teachers are the learning conditions of the students, and the government needs to step up in order to ensure they set up the students in the province for as much success as possible,” says Ross.
“If the unions don’t see positive movement at the negotiation tables and are forced to initiate a strike action, it most likely wouldn’t happen until mid-November,” says Ross, who notes that if or when a strike mandate is announced, over 400,000 workers could walk off the job simultaneously. “This will have a huge impact on services across the province,” he states. “The government would be well served to try to avoid this.”