Montreal Gazette

Teachers protest for better working conditions

Seek better working conditions, support for students with special needs

- KATHERINE WILTON kwilton@postmedia.com The Canadian Press contribute­d to this report.

Teachers protested outside English and French public schools across Quebec on Wednesday morning demanding better working conditions and more support for students with special needs.

About 8,000 teachers in English school boards and 65,000 in French schools, outside Montreal and Laval, held a partial strike from midnight to 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

In Montreal, all students in the English Montreal and Lester B. Pearson school boards had online classes start at 9:45 a.m. The boards moved to virtual schooling, saying the strike would have disrupted the school bus schedule and allowed students to gather on school property without adequate supervisio­n.

Many parents planned to keep their children offline on Wednesday in solidarity with the teachers.

Parents discussed the plan in Facebook groups Tuesday night. Some sent a standard letter to teachers and principals explaining the decision.

“We want our publicly funded school boards to realize that if they will not support you, we as parents surely will,” the letter says.

Teachers are lobbying for smaller class sizes, more support for students with learning difficulti­es, better wages and a lighter workload. They have given their unions a five-day strike mandate.

The labour action will continue if progress isn't made soon at the bargaining table, said Josée Scalabrini, president of the Fédération des syndicats de l'enseigneme­nt, which represents French teachers outside Montreal.

“We need an agreement that will allow us to give better service to the students and work on the compositio­n of the class,” Scalabrini said in an interview from Quebec City.

Major changes also need to be made to the teachers' workload, which is contributi­ng to the loss of many young teachers, she said. About 30 per cent of new teachers in the public system leave their jobs within five years because they're overworked and underpaid, unions say.

“We need to stop young teachers from leaving and encourage others to join the education profession,” Scalabrini said. “We can no longer be the worst paid teachers in Canada.”

The Treasury Board has offered Quebec teachers a five-per-cent wage increase over three years, plus a one-time danger-pay bonus amounting to $400 million in total for working during the pandemic.

However, to bring salaries in line with teachers across Canada, unions also want an immediate five-per-cent increase across all pay scales.

In Sherbrooke, the strike was marred after a teacher picketing with her colleagues in Sherbrooke was struck by a car in what police described as a deliberate gesture.

Sherbrooke police spokesman Martin Carrier said the woman was participat­ing in a strike outside her high school around 9:30 a.m. when she was struck by a driver who allegedly drove into the picket line.

Carrier said the woman escaped with minor injuries.

The 54-year-old suspect left the scene but was later arrested at his home for assault with a weapon.

Carrier said witnesses indicated the suspect has a connection to the school and was possibly the father of a student, but said his identity had yet to be confirmed as of Wednesday afternoon.

The area's teachers union, Centrale des syndicats du Quebec, wrote on its Facebook page that the incident was “unacceptab­le.”

Florent Tanlet, a spokesman for Treasury Board president Sonia Lebel, said the act, if deliberate, “has no place in a civil society.”

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 ?? PIERRE OBENDRAUF ?? Teachers from Lasalle Community Comprehens­ive High School protest against lagging contract talks with the Quebec government on Wednesday. Quebec teachers are lobbying for smaller class sizes, more support for students with learning difficulti­es and better wages.
PIERRE OBENDRAUF Teachers from Lasalle Community Comprehens­ive High School protest against lagging contract talks with the Quebec government on Wednesday. Quebec teachers are lobbying for smaller class sizes, more support for students with learning difficulti­es and better wages.

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