On May 18, Québec’s Minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, made an unfortunate remark to the effect that the health emergency needs to be maintained in Québec because of the negotiations with the public sector employees. He tried to step back from his comment afterwards, but unfortunately the cat was already out of the bag.
In fact, the Minister simply confirmed out loud what was already generally known, namely that it is easier for a government to negotiate when it has given itself extraordinary rights by order. It can openly misuse those rights and extend their scope, with complete disregard for workers, including the teachers on whom distance education was illegally imposed as a way of circumventing the perfectly legal pressure tactics of the unions.
In the current health emergency, the orders provide for schools to revert to distance teaching when a classroom or school is closed for reasons relating to the pandemic. However, there is no provision that allows for the use of distance teaching for any other reason, including to circumvent the right to strike by teachers or other school staff members. Yet, this is what many school service centres and school boards are doing, with the government’s complicity. This government, instead of negotiating in good faith, in compliance with the rules set out by law, is cheating in order to tip the balance of power in its favour by making hypocritical use of the orders intended to protect public health.
This shameful behaviour is designed to create divisions in schools and causes an overload ofwork for teachers, who must once again remake their plans and adapt to constantly changing instructions. Yes, distance teaching requires preparation, and more often than not this year, teachers have done this in their own time, without pay and without recognition.
But we have news for the government: we stand with our co-workers. We have come together to demand better working conditions for ourselves and better learning conditions for students.
Obviously, the FSE-CSQ and QPAT have objected to this deplorable practice through grievances, and arbitration is currently underway to settle our claim that it is illegal to impose distance teaching for reasons other than those provided for in the health emergency orders. A decision is expected by the end of the school year.
The late and ongoing legal challenge strategies used by our employers, which blocked our urgent contestation efforts during our first strike period, are obviously deplorable. They knowingly withheld information from parents and objected at the last minute, when they could have used that time to find solutions that were as innovative as our pressure tactics. Again, this demonstration of bad faith does not reflect well on school organizations.
In the meantime, additional strike days have been announced. What will the government do this time? Will it speed up the talks at the tables by giving its negotiators a real mandate, or will it once again give its blessing for school organizations to operate illegally?
The Ministère de l’Éducation should be ashamed of itself for condoning this practice. And after an ethical violation of the law that does it absolutely no credit whatsoever, will the government launch yet another multi-million dollar false advertising campaign telling us that this is how it values and acknowledges the teaching profession? We’ve had enough of their contempt. Teachers deserve better.
Josée Scalabrini, President, FSE-CSQ
Heidi Yetman, President, APEQ-QPAT