Interview, Sylvain Mallette, President, Autonomous Teachers' Federation (FAE)

Workers' Forum: What are the main features of the offer from the Management Negotiating Committee that was presented to you at the end of 2019?

Sylvain Mallette: The concept which guided the employer in drafting its offer can be summed up in the following words: optimal use of the teaching staff. In our opinion, it is an expression of violence. The employer proposes to use us optimally, that is to say until we are exhausted, until we are out of breath.

It is a contemptuous and utilitarian look at the teaching profession. They want teachers to simply carry out orders. Teachers must do what they are told to do, as and when they are told to do it. At the same time, they are being held responsible for everything that goes wrong. They are being made responsible for academic success. They are given a role similar to that of a social worker, without giving them the means they need to accomplish this work.

There is a desire to deny what a collective agreement is. We are an organization which negotiates a labour contract with working conditions. Yes, we are concerned about educational success, and having good working conditions ensures better learning conditions, especially for the most vulnerable students. We have the right to have good working conditions. In this regard, the conditions under which they want us to work are unacceptable. I made it clear last December that the employer's offer cannot and will not constitute a basis for negotiation. For example, the employers want to give themselves the means to no longer respect the average and the maximum number of students per class. They want to be able to no longer take students from low income families into account when forming groups. Yet we know very well that living in a disadvantaged environment, with students who suffer poverty and their parents who suffer poverty, has colossal consequences on academic success, culture and equal opportunities.

According to the employer's offer, the teacher, in order to have access to resources and services, should demonstrate that he or she has tried everything before making a request. What does that mean except that the teacher will be pushed to the limit, that they will burn the teacher out completely, that he or she will be constantly in a position of weakness and that he or she will have to justify the call for services and resources. It is completely unacceptable. This is being done under the hoax of enhancing the profession, and yet the task is being individualized and the teacher is made responsible for everything, especially whatever goes wrong. The burden of academic success is put on the shoulders of the teacher. In other words, the teachers have to fend for themselves in the classroom, almost abandoned, having to meet the needs of all students, regardless of what those needs are and the existing level of resources and services.

In the employer's offer, there is also a desire to eliminate the subjects for which there must be consultation by management with the teachers and for which the teachers choose the appropriate consultation mode. This is going back 50 years. They talk about enhancing the profession but in fact our role is reduced to that of obeying orders.

This would only contribute to the suffering of teachers. The teaching profession is suffering and we are not going to negotiate the suffering of our teachers. This suffering stems from a staff shortage -- nearly 25 per cent of teachers leave the profession before the fifth year of practice. People no longer choose our profession. Early retirement is on the increase even if it causes a reduction in the amount of pension you get. The teachers become poorer during retirement when they take early retirement. Psychological distress is on the rise. The rates of short-term disability claims, two years or less, are skyrocketing. Fifty per cent of these cases are caused by psychological distress. The teachers can't take it anymore. They carry the weight of having to do more with less.

The employer's offer shows that the school authorities are envisaging educational networks and systems in line with the neo-liberal vision of the relationship of human beings with the state and public services, and of the relationship between humans themselves. We are in a market logic, where we do in the public sector what is being done in the private sector. We adopt "lean" approaches, production methods of private industry. It is very disturbing. In this logic, children from low income backgrounds are simply reduced to a category, of being a costly expense to the system. So children from those backgrounds are put into conditions that are much inferior to those of pupils from more privileged classes who have access to culture and services. Children from low income backgrounds are being trained, right at the end of their second year of secondary school, to occupy semi-skilled jobs. The public school as the system in which we wanted to create equal opportunities is being cast aside. Now the public school is placed in competition, not only with the private school but with itself, because it is accepted that certain public schools can select which pupils they will enrol. The people who drafted the employer's offer are no longer the guardians of the public school that we had given ourselves. They subscribe to the neo-liberal market and utilitarian vision of the public school network.

WF: What are the demands of the FAE in this context?

SM: We want to improve the daily lives of our members to ensure that our working conditions allow us to achieve our mission which is to educate students, especially students from low income disadvantaged backgrounds who, with their families, suffer poverty. It is with a humanist approach that we address the negotiations. By negotiating our working conditions, we also negotiate the learning conditions of our students. As teachers, we have the right to good working conditions and as citizens we are the guardians of the public school. If we accept the weakening of our conditions, we accept the weakening of the public school.

We also ask to be recognized as pedagogical experts who have the right to choose the best pedagogical approaches, assessment tools and methods of intervention with our students.

We also want to ensure that teachers have access to permanent jobs. It is part of recognizing who we are. It is not normal for teachers who are approaching retirement, some with 35 years of service, to still be working under precarious employment contracts. Teachers are being maintained in precariousness, and these are mainly women because women represent 73 per cent of the teaching profession.

We must also make sure that the schools form groups which take into account the difficulties which the pupils have -- all of the pupils. Those who teach groups with the greatest difficulties must have fewer students to respond to these realities. Or we must create classes for these students which does not mean withdrawing them from society but recognizing that in their educational path they need special help that we will give them, even if it costs more, to give them time to realize themselves as human beings.

These things must be said, but action must also be taken, which poses the problem of trade union mobilization and action. We must stand together and recognize the usefulness of trade union action which improves conditions for the whole of society. When we make gains, it uplifts those who do not have access to unionization, who have broken up work schedules, like all the women who must have two or three jobs and who live in precariousness.

The Autonomous Teachers' Federation (FAE) represents 45,000 teachers in Quebec's public schools. The nine unions affiliated with the FAE represent preschool, elementary, secondary, adult education and vocational training teachers in seven regions of Quebec.

This article was published in

Number 5 - February 12, 2020

Article Link:
Interview, Sylvain Mallette, President, Autonomous Teachers' Federation (FAE)


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